Offshore Wind Could Power Coastal China – Study

The total generating potential from wind farms built along the Chinese coast is 5.4 times larger than the current demand for power in China’s populous coastal provinces, a study by Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China shows.

China Three Gorges/Illustration

“This is an important new contribution, recognition that China has abundant off-shore wind potential that can be developed and brought on shore to the power hungry coastal provinces at costs competitive with existing coal-fired polluting power plants,” said Michael McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at SEAS and senior author of the paper.

To calculate the capacity and cost of offshore wind in China, the researchers first identified the regions where offshore wind farms could be built, excluding shipping zones, environmentally protected areas and water depths higher than 60 metres. They calculated the wind speeds in those areas and estimated the hourly capacity for each of the turbines.

We estimate offshore wind costs according to a range of values derived from recent offshore wind farm developments,” said Peter Sherman, a graduate student at the department of Earth and Planetary Science and first author of the paper.

“Offshore wind turbines have historically been prohibitively expensive, but it is clear now that, 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.”

The researchers estimated that if electricity prices are high, offshore wind could provide more than 1,000 terawatt-hours, or about 36 percent of all coastal energy demand. If electricity prices are low, it could provide more than 6,000 terawatt-hours, or 200 percent of total energy demand.

“Our research demonstrates the potential for cost-effective, offshore wind to power coastal regions, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality in China,” said McElroy.

This research was supported by the Harvard Global Institute, National Science Foundation China, and the State Key Laboratory on Smart Grid Protection and Operation Control.