Analysis

Challenges faced by China compared with the US in developing wind power

  • Nature Energy 1, Article number: 16061 (2016)
  • doi:10.1038/nenergy.2016.61
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Abstract

In the 21st Conference of the Parties held in Paris in December 2015, China pledged to peak its carbon emissions and increase non-fossil energy to 20% by 2030 or earlier. Expanding renewable capacity, especially wind power, is a central strategy to achieve these climate goals. Despite greater capacity for wind installation in China compared to the US (145.1 versus 75.0 GW), less wind electricity is generated in China (186.3 versus 190.9 TWh). Here, we quantify the relative importance of the key factors accounting for the unsatisfactory performance of Chinese wind farms. Different from the results in earlier qualitative studies, we find that the difference in wind resources explains only a small fraction of the present China−US difference in wind power output (−17.9% in 2012); the curtailment of wind power, differences in turbine quality, and delayed connection to the grid are identified as the three primary factors (respectively −49.3%, −50.2%, and −50.3% in 2012). Improvements in both technology choices and the policy environment are critical in addressing these challenges.

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Acknowledgements

The research was supported by the State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory of Sources and Control of Air Pollution Complex, the Collaborative Innovation Centre for Regional Environmental Quality, MEP’s Special Funds for Research on Public Welfare (201409002), and the Volvo Group in a research project of the Research Center for Green Economy and Sustainable Development, Tsinghua University. It was also supported by the Harvard Climate Change Solutions Fund and the Harvard Global Institute.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Environment and State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, Tsinghua University, Beijing 10084, China

    • Xi Lu
  2. Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Michael B. McElroy
    •  & Chris P. Nielsen
  3. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Michael B. McElroy
  4. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Wei Peng
  5. National School of Development, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Shiyang Liu
  6. State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, School of the Environment, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China

    • Haikun Wang

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Contributions

X.L. and M.B.M. conceived the idea for the paper. X.L. conducted the analysis. X.L. and S.L. collected the data. X.L., M.B.M. and W.P. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xi Lu or Michael B. McElroy.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2, Supplementary Notes 1 and 2, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References.