Friday, 19 February 2010

Foreign developers shut out of China’s offshore wind boom

Kunming, 18 February: China has opened the door to domestic wind power companies to begin developing the country’s offshore resources – but has effectively shut it on international operators – with the release of regulations governing approval and ownership of offshore wind projects.
China has repeatedly dashed past its targets in installing onshore wind power capacity, and is expected to have the second-most installed capacity in the world by 2011. But its offshore resources, with estimated potential of between 100 and 200 GW (assuming 10-20% coastline utilisation), have yet to be exploited.
Planning for the first round of concession bidding began in early February, with national targets likely sometime this year.
But Liming Qiao, policy director at the Global Wind Energy Council, said the offshore regulation, announced last week, will prevent overseas firms from being involved: “The regulation rules out foreign developers in the offshore business. This is a bit shocking, as we all know that for the onshore development the government didn’t explicitly exclude international developers.”
In effect, however, there has been relatively little international participation in the onshore wind sector due to policy barriers such as low tariff levels and a regulation requiring majority Chinese ownership to qualify for revenue from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the UN-administered system for rewarding projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions with carbon credits. Consequently, the majority of China’s 25 GW of installed onshore capacity has been developed by the ‘big five’ state-owned utilities.
The new offshore regulation does not overtly prohibit foreign involvement in project development. But it does require foreign companies to enter into a Chinese-controlled joint venture and it limits equity ownership to less than 50%. “In reality, most of the international developers cannot, or are not willing to, do a joint venture with [a] Chinese partner,” Qiao said.
The Chinese press, quoting a National Energy Administration official, reported that the requirement was put in place to prevent sensitive oceanic and ocean current data leaking to the outside world.
International equipment providers, however, will see new opportunities along China’s coastline. With proven products already installed in Europe, wind turbine manufacturers such as Vestas and Siemens will have a technical head start in the new market.
Meanwhile, Chinese turbine companies, who have taken over the top three spots in domestic market share from internationals over the past two years, may not be far behind. Sinovel has a small number of 3 MW turbines off the coast near Shanghai, and market-leading Goldwind plans to start volume production of a 5MW offshore machine in the second half of this year.
Development of the offshore sector will likely take off quickly, as power grid deficiencies, which have resulted in more than 20% of installed onshore capacity remaining thus far unconnected, will not be a factor along China’s industrial east coast. The big five utilities are already in talks with provincial authorities to secure prime locations, and Qiao said that since the offshore sector is effectively new, CDM registration at the UN, where a number of onshore projects have been controversially rejected in recent months, should not be an issue.
International investors have been keen on the booming but inaccessible Chinese wind sector for some time, and jumped on the chance to take a position in the industry via China Longyuan’s Hong Kong initial public offering last December.