China is wasting enough wind energy to power Great Britain, according to an article published Monday by the Worldwatch Institute, a green think tank.
China is wasting an estimated 15 percent of its wind electricity, and the country generates more wind power than any other country on Earth.
“The scale of this waste is enormous, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 3 million American households and greater than the United Kingdom’s total wind power generation in 2015,” Laqiqige Zhu, who studies climate and energy at Worldwatch, wrote on GreenBiz. “Perhaps most striking, although China nearly has doubled the installed wind generation capacity of the United States (145.1 GW versus 75.0 GW), actual Chinese generation is less than U.S. generation (186.3 terawatt-hours [TWh] versus 190.9 TWh).”
China invested almost $103 billion in green energy in 2015, making it the world’s largest environmental investor. Approximately 43 percent of these investments specifically target wind power. In comparison, the U.S. spent a “mere” $34 billion on green energy in 2014.
The sheer scale of the waste is causing even environmentalist outlets like InsideClimate News to worry, as it led to the Chinese government refusing to build any new wind turbines because the wasted electricity has caused serious damage to the country’s electrical grid.
“This wasted energy reflects not only sunk investment and foregone economic benefit, but also a missed opportunity to fight climate change,” Zhu continued.
The government stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions in March, according to China’s National Energy Administration statement. These regions previously installed nearly 71 gigawatts of wind turbines, more than the rest of China combined. A single gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes. Despite the freeze on new wind-farms, the Chinese government still plans to get 15 percent of the country’s electricity from green energy by 2020.
Beijing has ordered wind operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years because unreliable wind power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government enormous amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives — building the infrastructure to transmit wind energy over long distances is enormously expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the electricity.
So much energy is wasted because electricity generated by wind turbines is very intermittent and doesn’t coincide with the times of day when power is most needed. This poses an enormous safety challenge to grid operators and makes power grids vastly more fragile.
The decline of wind power in China has been great news for coal. The country continues to build numerous new coal power plants, causing coal consumption to grow by a factor of three from 2000 to 2013. The country consumes approximately half of all coal used worldwide and gets roughly 66 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In America, merely building a 3,000-mile network of transmission lines capable of moving power from wind-rich West Texas to market in East Texas was a $6.8 billion effort that began in 2008 and still isn’t entirely finished. Demand for electricity in China has grown much slower than expected due to the country’s general economic slowdown.