Study: China could go big on wind power—if it adjusts its grid operations

How China can ramp up wind power
Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

China has an opportunity to massively increase its use of wind power—if it properly integrates wind into its existing power system, according to a newly published MIT study.

The study forecasts that power could provide 26 percent of China's projected electricity demand by 2030, up from 3 percent in 2015. Such a change would be a substantial gain in the global transition to , since China produces the most total greenhouse gas emissions of any country in the world.

But the projection comes with a catch. China should not necessarily build more wind power in its windiest areas, the study finds. Instead, it should build more wind turbines in areas where they can be more easily integrated into the operations of its existing electricity grid.

"Wind that is built in distant, resource-rich areas benefits from more favorable physical properties but suffers from existing constraints on the operation of the power system," states Valerie Karplus, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, director of the Tsinghua-MIT China Energy and Climate Project, and a member of the MIT Energy Initiative. Those constraints include greater transmission costs and the cost of "curtailment," when available wind power is not used.

The paper, "Integrating wind into China's coal-heavy electricity system," is appearing in Nature Energy. In addition to Karplus, the authors are Michael R. Davidson, a graduate student in MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; Da Zhang, a postdoc in MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change; and Weiming Xei and Xiliang Zhang of Tsinghua University. Karplus and Zhang are the corresponding authors of the paper, and lead an MIT-Tsinghua collaboration focused on managing and climate change in China.

Co-existing with coal

While China has invested heavily in renewable energy sources in recent years, more investment in the sector will be needed if the country is to meet its pledge of having 20 percent of its energy consumption come from non-fossil fuel sources by the year 2030, as part of the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

While several previous studies have evaluated China's wind-energy potential based on the country's natural environment, the MIT study is the first to study how wind energy could expand, based on simulations of China's power system operations.

When operational constraints are considered, the MIT team found, China may only be able to use 10 percent of the physical potential for wind power cited in their analysis and other studies. Nevertheless, even harnessing that 10 percent would be enough for wind power to provide the study's estimated 26 percent of electricity by 2030.

A key challenge the study identifies is integrating wind power into a system that has traditionally been geared toward consumption of coal. Wind power, being intermittent, currently requires flexibility in the operation of the electricity system to ensure wind can be used when it is available.

That, in turn, requires flexibility in the delivery of electricity from coal-fired power plants, which accounted for over 70 percent of electricity generated in China in 2015. However, China has regulations determining high minimum output levels for many coal-powered electricity plants, to ensure the profitability of those plants. Reducing these requirements and creating more flexible generation schedules for coal would create more space for wind power.

"Renewable energy plays a central role in China's efforts to address climate change and local air quality," Da Zhang explains. "China plans to substantially increase the amount of wind electricity capacity in the future, but its utilization—and ultimately its contribution to these environmental goals—depends on whether or not integration challenges can be solved."

New policies possible?

As the researchers see it, new policies can help create the conditions for increased use of —but may be difficult to implement. As Davidson notes, "establishing regulatory structures and policy incentives to capture these benefits will be difficult in China because of legacy institutions."

And as Karplus adds, current regulations have been designed to ensure profitability for power producers, rather than making them compete to lower costs. "Existing policies prioritize sharing benefits equally among participants rather than facing strict price competition," she says. "As growth has slowed in recent years, the limited size of the pie means sharper conflicts between wind and coal."

To be sure, as Karplus notes, government planners in China have been experimenting with using energy markets that do not rely strictly on the system that uses a quota for coal power, but encourages competition for long-term contracts to deliver coal-based electricity, while creating additional markets for flexible operation.

Such market mechanisms could prove beneficial to renewable energy sources, principally wind and solar power. As Karplus concludes: "Our work shows the value of continuing these reforms, including introducing markets and relaxing the administrative constraints ... for China's ability to utilize its present and future wind capacity to the fullest."

At MIT, the research was funded by a consortium of founding sponsors of the MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project, supported through the MIT Energy Initiative: Eni, the French Development Agency (AFD), ICF, and Shell. At Tsinghua University, researchers received separate support from government and industry sources. The MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project is part of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.


Explore further

China wind power capacity jumps to record high

More information: Michael R. Davidson et al. Modelling the potential for wind energy integration on China's coal-heavy electricity grid, Nature Energy (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2016.86
Journal information: Nature Energy

Citation: Study: China could go big on wind power—if it adjusts its grid operations (2016, June 20) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-06-china-big-powerif-adjusts-grid.html
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Jun 20, 2016
Just let them know how much money their politicians can siphon off and I'm sure green power will become a huge hit in China.

Jun 21, 2016
Just let them know how much money their politicians can siphon off and I'm sure green power will become a huge hit in China.
You mean nuclear power plants?

Jun 21, 2016
It is the green money that drives their antinuclear/pro-renewable dogma.

Jun 21, 2016
"It is the green money that drives their antinuclear/pro-renewable dogma."
--------------------------------

Find a way to look into how much money has been squandered on subsidies for nuclear power in the last 60 years.

Do it.

Jun 21, 2016
We are finally closing Diablo Canyon, California's last nuke plant. Since we lead the nation in most things progressive, that means you will, too. But you will like your electric cars, quietly and cleanly running on sunshine.

Jun 21, 2016
California's last nuke plant.
"The evidence is clear: nuclear is far more effective at replacing fossil fuels and reducing pollution and carbon emissions than solar and wind. To exclude it from any clean energy standard in the face of irreversible climate devastation is simply unethical,"
"It's a mathematical certainty that closing nuclear plants results in more fossil fuel burning and emissions,"
www.forbes.com/si...ne-24th/

Jun 21, 2016
Paste all you want, Willie.

We have no coal. We are ridding ourselves of nukes. Things look bad for you pro-polluters.

Jun 21, 2016
We have no coal.
Yes. now you have "fracking" to compensate intermittency of renewables.
https://www.publi...aste?utm

Jun 21, 2016
http://www.forbes...ne-24th/
That is microeconomics argument, not maths proof. And Forbes was a lamestream errand boy, unworthy of the attention given to a cat

Jun 21, 2016
"Denmark has considerable sources of oil and natural gas in the North Sea and ranks as number 32 in the world among net exporters of crude oil. Denmark expects to be self-sufficient with oil until 2050..." to compensate intermittency of bird-choppers yes of course
https://en.wikipe..._Denmark

Jun 21, 2016
pseudo-environmentalists love to call others liars, but they promote a renewable cult that is dishonest and divorced from reality; green money is what matters.

Jun 21, 2016
yeah put abandoned copper mines into account to distort numbers in favor of bird-choppers and call liar who expose it. very convenient.

Jun 22, 2016
detached from reality
yeah oil coal natural gas/fracking are no more necessary so shut down all carbon-free nuclear power plants because we already have, or someday we will have, wind/solar-powered factories, cars, ships, submarines, all kinds of machines powered by sunshine and breeze.

Jun 26, 2016
Chinese get most big wind when wind machine face east just outside Beijing-Peiping-Peking. Then big windbag politicians in Politburo all face east when give big speech. Must use that energy right away. Most of Politburo big speech rot fast

Jun 26, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 26, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 26, 2016
They only became pro when green energy came along.
It is because "when green energy came along" it became clear that carbon-free nuclear power is much more ecologically friendly per gigawatt produced, since so-called "green energy" is not nearly as clean and good for the environment as the pseudo-environmentalists(pro-natural gas/fracking) want us to believe.

Jun 26, 2016
@WillieTard It is because "when green energy came along" it became clear that carbon-free nuclear power is much more ecologically friendly per gigawatt produced, since so-called "green energy" is not nearly as clean and good for the environment as the pseudo-environmentalists(pro-natural gas/fracking) want us to believe.
Based only upon fallacious lies you pulled from your posterior
detached from reality
@WillieTard yeah oil coal natural gas/fracking are no more necessary so shut down all carbon-free nuclear power plants because we already have, or someday we will have, wind/solar-powered factories, cars, ships, submarines, all kinds of machines powered by sunshine and breeze.
Glad you are coming round to the future of energy

Jun 26, 2016
@WillieTard yeah put abandoned copper mines into account to distort numbers in favor of bird-choppers and call liar who expose it. very convenient.
You prefer your birds fried by nuclear and coal?

Jun 26, 2016
You prefer your birds fried by nuclear...
Nuclear power plants have no exposed wind blades nor solar mirrors. Wind/solar farms utilize high-voltage transmission (HVDC) so it electrocutes birds and bats in midair too.

Jun 26, 2016
You prefer your birds fried by nuclear...
Nuclear power plants have no exposed wind blades nor solar mirrors. Wind/solar farms utilize high-voltage transmission (HVDC) so it electrocutes birds and bats in midair too.
Yes your central distribution grid model is obsolete. Solar and wind are distributed technologies. Admit it WilllieTard you enjoy watching birds being fired and electrocuted, which is why you advocate nuclear and coal

Jun 30, 2016
renewables vs fossil fuels ... https://www.googl...;bih=767
Renewables have strong dependence on fossil fuels to mine, manufacture, transport and to compensate intermittency, e.g. Germany(lignite coal) and California(natural gas/fracking).
"Solar and wind power fluctuate based on the weather conditions and time of day. Natural gas plants are kept running to fill in the gaps."
http://ww2.kqed.o...l-short/
Nuclear power is awesomely energy dense, compact; it needs less mining, steel, and land area per gigawatt produced.

Jul 01, 2016
Spreading solar and wind farms across a wide geographic area...
Farewell natural landscapes, semi-deserts(last refuge for wildlife), and offshore areas.

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