Study: Offshore wind could power China’s entire coast

Source: By Bloomberg • Posted: Monday, February 24, 2020

The gusts of wind cascading across China’s seas have the potential to power its populous coastal provinces many times over, a study from Harvard University shows.

Wind farms along the coast could potentially supply 5.4 times more electricity than the current coastal demand, researchers said in a report. Falling costs for offshore wind mean some of that can now be harnessed at costs competitive to existing power plants, with prospects for reductions in greenhouse emissions.

“Offshore wind turbines have historically been prohibitively expensive,” said Peter Sherman, the first author of the report. “Because of significant technological advances, the economics have changed such that offshore wind could be cost-competitive now with coal and nuclear power in China.”

China has plowed large sums of money into onshore wind, but investments in offshore wind have been minor mainly due to perceptions of cost. Offshore wind has a location benefit as coastal provinces consume about 80% of total national electricity, but are separated from the vast majority of installed onshore wind capacity by more than 1,000 miles, according to the report.

Researchers first identified the regions where offshore wind farms could be built. They then calculated the wind speeds in those areas and estimated the hourly capacity for each of the turbines. The greatest offshore wind resource is seen off Fujian, followed by Zhejiang, Guangdong, Shanghai and Hainan.

The researchers said if China could build offshore wind farms at a cost of $3,500 per kilowatt, it would meet 36% of the energy demand from nine coastal provinces at a competitive price of less than 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Lower construction costs would boost the amount of competitive power from offshore wind.

Auctions in Shanghai, Zhejiang and Liaoning last year produced bids to deliver offshore wind power at 10.7 to 11.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to BloombergNEF.

With the economics increasingly favorable for offshore wind power in China, it is important to assess how coastal power systems can better accommodate this form of electricity, according to the report.

The study was conducted by Harvard’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and China’s Huazhong University of Science & Technology.