China — Helping to Bring in Wind Power

What’s not to like about a $1.5 billion wind project covering 36,000-acre and generating the power for 180,000 homes in western Texas? For one, it rubs our nose in the fact that China is one of many countries that out-invests the US when it comes to renewables. The project is a joint venture that includes China’s Shenyang Power Group, which points out how much China’s own wind industry has grown, and reminds us of what Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress earlier this week: The U.S. is falling behind China and others in alternative energy investment.

But how shocking is the idea that China should aspire to be a world player in wind? “This is a natural progression,” says Harvard-educated Lou Schwartz, president of Pittsburgh-based China Strategies. “We need to avoid looking at this narrowly and saying ‘China’s up and we’re down.’ We have to welcome each other.”

Thus the reality we all need to face: the source of the renewable energy may be local, but the equipment to harvest it most certainly is not. I’m reminded of what Ray Lane, partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, told the audience in the “Business of Plugging In” conference a few weeks ago: The United States needs to cut the rhetoric and make real investments if it is to be a real player on the world renewables stage.

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2 comments on “China — Helping to Bring in Wind Power
  1. Peter Buzzard says:

    The current technology of Wind and Solar tends to provide power when and where it is needed the least. The transmission of power from wind and solar farms to population centers is extremely expensive, and superconducting transmission lines are still a future dream, so the answer lies elsewhere…
    probably small scale coiled supercondutors that will extract power from the magnetic field of the earth (or other planets we might go to). We will also need some major improvements in battery technology (our national labs are working hard at this). Either way, we don’t have the right answer yet, but until we do, we have nuclear plants.

    • More conversation on this:

      Peter Buzzard: I love this Craig, we have to get together. You make a compelling argument. DC transmission is a great idea, but then you will have a resistive heat system to convert the energy to thermal for the salt storage. Has anyone researched the resistive losses? Also the salt storage will eventually be used to create steam and turn a turbine generator. This only 33% efficient. Of course, all conventional power plants have this same efficiency problem, but wouldn’t it be better to get the full value of the solar energy?

      As far as start up cost for a solar project vs a nuclear project, I recently compared two estimates. Here are the results:

      Million $ Megawatts Dollars per watt
      Solar 515 80 6.44
      Nuclear 13000 2200 5.91

      But maybe if you really scale up the Solar project size, it will drop below Nuc. The nuc foot print will be smaller, but they both share some of the same location issues. I don’t have good data on solar life expectancy or maintenance costs either. There are a lot of unknowns here, but at least it’s getting attention.

      Craig Shields: Sorry, I haven’t explained this very well. The heat energy from the solar thermal generates steam that turns a turbine that generates electricity. But some of that energy is also used to heat molten salt. When the sun goes down, that heat energy is used to produce electricty. The high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission is used to conduct the energy over long distances; the higher the voltage the less the line losses.

      I can probably do a better job of this verbally. Please call when you can; I’d love to catch up with you anyway. 805-693-1017.

      Re: nuclear, please see blog post linked.

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  1. […] Strategies Speaks on Renewables I quoted Lou Schwartz of China Strategies in an earlier post on wind power, and I found what he said so fascinating that I placed a call to him just now to ask him more about […]

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