Research highlight

Tornado of potential for wind energy in China

Nature Energy

June 21, 2016

China could generate up to 26% of its projected 2030 electricity demand with wind power alone, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Energy. The modelling study suggests that this represents only 10% of the country’s total wind resource, and that the ability to adjust the rate of China’s coal-based energy production could help the country reach its target of generating 20% of its primary energy (including energy other than electricity) from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

China - the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter - has pledged to curb its emissions by shifting its reliance on coal to the production of renewable energy, and to wind in particular. Although China now has the largest installed wind capacity of any country, integrating wind energy into the electricity grid is challenging due to the mismatch between the variability of wind resources and the inflexibility of coal-heavy energy production.

Valerie Karplus, Xiliang Zhang and colleagues devise an hourly dispatch model - which determines the optimal output of the power system, given operational and distribution constraints - to assess the potential for integrating wind generation into the grid. They find that wind could generate up to 11.9% of China’s projected primary energy (all forms of energy, not just electricity) by 2030, and that even limited improvements in the flexibility of production from coal - so that it does not produce a constant output and accounts for the variability in the energy produced by wind - could further push this to 14%.

In an accompanying News & Views article, Jiahai Yuan concludes that wind power “represents the most promising renewable energy source in China."

doi: 10.1038/nenergy.2016.86

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