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China to bring first offshore wind farm online; reinforces lead

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China is on track to to bring online this month its first offshore wind farm, a 102-megawatt array located in the Yangtze River delta near Shanghai.

China is on track to to bring online this month its first offshore wind farm, a 102-megawatt array located in the Yangtze River delta near Shanghai.

The project is the latest in a series of moves by the Chinese government to pad its lead as the world's largest market for wind power. Last month, officials solicited bids for several large-scale offshore wind power projects that promise to generate up to 1,000 megawatts in total.

Energy consultancy firm Azure International predicts that China will install 514 megawatts of offshore wind over the next three to four years. By 2010, China is expected to invest $100 billion to install up to 30,000 megawatts -- enough to match the power of all the onshore wind farms currently installed in China.

Though China's offshore winds are slower than those in Europe, 40 percent of China's population lives along the eastern seaboard, and offshore development is seen as local investment.

The development helps provinces remain self-sufficient, despite China's construction of a transmission supergrid to import hydroelectric, coal and wind power from western areas of the country.

Technology Review compares the situation with the United States:

The Chinese offshore wind situation is analogous to that in the United States, where eastern states advocate offshore wind over construction of an interstate supergrid delivering western wind power. For example, last week, Cape Wind, which has proposed a wind farm off Nantucket, announced it had ordered 130 turbines. The difference is that China's first offshore wind farm, installed by top Chinese turbine producer Sinovel, is about to start generating electricity, whereas Cape Wind has been waiting for its federal permit since it gained state and local permits in 2008.

Offshore pilot-scale farms are already under construction in the province of Jiangsu, north of Shanghai, an area which researchers say has eight to 10 gigawatts of intertidal wind power potential.

The only hurdles? Engineering for the tidal flat's muddy seafloors and shifting sandbars, which present a different environment than that of the North Sea.

Typhoons also threaten deeper water projects.

Finally, quality remains an issue. According to a 2009 report on the Chinese market for clean energy technologies by the China Greentech Initiative, "real and perceived quality issues for Chinese domestically manufactured turbines and components negatively impact wind farm efficiency and constrain export market opportunities."

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure