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East wind prevails again

Signboards on the highway beside the bullet train tracks from Beijing to Tianjin, warn drivers to “Notice behind.”

world Updated: Feb 07, 2010 00:29 IST
Reshma Patil

Signboards on the highway beside the bullet train tracks from Beijing to Tianjin, warn drivers to “Notice behind.”

Ahead, the horizon is hidden in smog and the blue sky turns grey as we approach the seaside city.

In the car, a Chinese girl from the wind energy major Suzlon turned to tell me that India is a “magic country.” For the global green energy industry, the nation now making magic at the speed of wind is the world’s top polluter — China.

“While India was traditionally the strongest Asian market in wind development, it was overtaken by China in 2008,’’ Angelika Pullen, communications director of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) told the Hindustan Times from Brussels.

As our car rolled into the Suzlon Energy factory, a Chennai native was serving sambar-rice on the first floor for the six Indian employees. On the ground floor, the Chinese staff was lunching on noodles.

Long wind turbine blades were strewn horizontally across the complex of the world’s third-largest wind turbine maker.

Suzlon makes turbines to withstand temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius in India, where it pioneered the revolution. In China, where Suzlon was among the first global entrants, the turbines can withstand minus 40 degrees.

The gaps between the wind revolution in India and China are widening by the day. In 2009, China built more wind turbines than any nation and became the second-biggest market in installed capacity compared to India at the fifth rank.

The boom is a big success --- especially for Chinese companies.

“The explosion of the wind market in China has not happened anywhere in the world since 2004,’’ Suzlon Energy’s China CEO Paulo Fernando Soares said. “China will account for half the global market this year.’’

Beijing is the world’s biggest and most competitive wind energy hub home to every major global player in the industry.

But as gusty Siberian winds loudly rammed the office high-rise, Soares said it is ‘unbelievable, unusual and unnatural’ that global players are not winning the major central government contracts in the Chinese wind power industry in recent years.

“There’s clearly a favourable treatment for local Chinese companies.’’

On the highway, we had passed trucks loaded with new automobiles destined for Chinese customers.

The country’s car market is now the world’s biggest. Giant turbines are rolled down Tianjin highway to windswept Inner Mongolia.

As China struggles to reduce pollution without slowing economic growth, officials from Beijing to the most far-off province are in a race to install clean power as part of the central government’s plan to present China as a green technology pioneer. From 2004 to 2009, China’s installed wind power capacity grew twentyfold, sparking concerns about overcapacity.

“The business of overseas companies is going down but Chinese companies have orders booked for the next three-four years,’’ said Mo Perwaiz, general manager of Air Tech Asia in China, a supplier of wind power technology components. “The Chinese companies are booming.’’ Chinese manufacturers that began by licensing know-how are now looking at new markets in Africa and Asia.

The GWEC said this week that the world’s wind power capacity grew by 31 per cent in 2009 with a third of the additions made in China, which experienced over 100 per cent growth. Last year, China began constructing the nation’s biggest wind farm in its northwest. Officials call it the Three Gorges in the Air after the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam on the Yangtze.

But 70 per cent of Chinese electricity still depends on coal. Wind won’t be changing that equation as long as wind power costs twice as much. About a third of the installed wind power capacity is not connected to the grid.

Until July 2009, wind power was only 0.7 per cent of total power generated in China. In 2007, China announced targets to increase the share of renewable energy to 15 per cent of energy generation by 2020.

“Our volume has not grown in the same way the market has grown,’’ said Soares, but he hopes the wind will soon change course. “We have to do the best we can to overcome barriers and be competitive in central government projects.”

The frequent flyer to India emphasised that business opportunities for Chinese companies in India are more favourable.

To begin with, the economies need better connectivity to build bilateral business. “It’s quicker to fly from Beijing to Frankfurt to Pune than wait at the Delhi airport,’’ he said.

The Chinese aren’t waiting. In 2009, India added 1,271 MW of installed wind power capacity while China added 13,000 MW.

“China is putting strong efforts into developing the country’s tremendous wind resources,’’ said Li Junfeng, secretary-general of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, in a statement this week. “It can be expected that even the unofficial target of 150 GW will be met well ahead of 2020.”