Against the Wind: China's Struggle to Integrate Wind Energy into Its National Grid

Long Lam (Carnegie Mellon University), Lee G. Branstetter (PIIE) and Inês M. L. Azevedo (Carnegie Mellon University)

Policy Brief
17-5
January 2017
Photo Credit: 
REUTERS/Stringer

China launched an unprecedented wind farm construction boom a decade ago to expand renewable energy’s share of its primary energy by exploiting its considerable wind energy resources. On the surface these efforts appeared to yield great success, with China’s wind generating capacity growing more than 100-fold in less than 10 years. But close examination of its aggressive top-down approach to the promotion of renewable energy reveals that China has fallen far short of its ambitious goals. Turbines were quickly installed—but many of them were not connected to the power grid. After some turbines were connected, the state-owned enterprises that operate the national grid often refused to accept energy from them. These problems led to inefficiencies that are without precedent in the Western world. The authors find that although its installed wind energy capacity is 75 percent larger than that of the United States, China produces 14 percent less wind energy than the United States. Even in a political system with a strong centralized government, China’s push for renewable power faltered in the face of entrenched interests, weak incentives, and conflicting policy priorities.

Data Disclosure: 

The data underlying this analysis are available here.