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


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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Figure 1: A comparison of wind power deployment for China and the US from 2000 to 2015.
Figure 2: Contribution of different factors in explaining the China–US difference in wind power output.
Figure 3: Geographical distribution of capacity factors (CFs) evaluated for wind resources assuming deployment of a network of GE 2.5 MW turbines.
Figure 4: Average nameplate capacity for turbines installed in China and the US from 2000 to 2013.


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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




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.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xi Lu or Michael B. McElroy.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2, Supplementary Notes 1 and 2, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References. (PDF 782 kb)

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Lu, X., McElroy, M., Peng, W. et al. Challenges faced by China compared with the US in developing wind power. Nat Energy 1, 16061 (2016).

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