China has been the world’s largest and fastest-growing producer of renewable energy for more than a decade, but has widened its lead over international rivals through a steep acceleration in the roll out of wind capacity since 2021.
China added more wind generation capacity in the past two years than over the previous seven, and in 2022 generated 46% more wind power than all of Europe, the second largest wind generation market, according to data from think tank Ember.
As Europe had been the world’s top wind power producer until 2020, China’s widening lead over the rest of the world in such a tight time frame further cements China’s status as the global green energy leader, and underscores Beijing’s commitment to overhauling its massive energy system at a record pace.
Further, the rapid roll out of wind capacity, along with a more than 27% surge in solar generation in 2022 from the year before, helped push China’s electricity share from clean energy sources to a record 34.2% last year.
While China has deployed record volumes of both solar and wind power capacity over the past decade, wind generation capacity has grown more steeply than solar capacity since 2020.
For industrial scale electricity generation, wind power is often preferred over solar due to the ability for wind turbines to generate electricity around the clock, while solar power generation drops off as the sun sets.
Over the past two years, the average annual increase in China’s wind capacity was 178.6 terawatt hours (TWh), or 350 % more than the average annual increase from 2015 through 2020.
In contrast, China’s solar capacity grew by an average of 78.3 TWh in 2021-22, or roughly twice the yearly growth pace of 39.6 TWh from 2015 to 2020.
China’s recent wind power expansion was also sharply higher than in other major markets, with the cumulative growth in 2021 and 2022 3.6 times greater than the growth seen over the same period in the United States, and 7.3 times more than in Europe.
China’s total wind farm operational capacity was 278,353 megawatts (MW) as of January 2023, according to data from Global Energy Monitor (GEM).
Nearly 60 % of that total has been installed since 2015, and 95% since 2010, meaning that a vast majority of China’s wind projects are relatively modern installations with commensurately high efficiency rates.
In contrast, 22 % of wind capacity in the United States, and 27 % in Europe’s top wind producer, Germany, was installed before 2010, and so is likely to be less efficient than the latest generations of turbines.
Beyond cementing China’s place in the international green energy hierarchy, the climb in wind power capacity has helped redraw the energy mix across several key provinces.
China’s operational wind installations are spread out across 30 provinces, 10 of which have installed capacity in excess of 10,000MW, GEM data sbows.
Major manufacturing hubs such as Guangdong in the south, Fujian on the east coast, and Shanxi and Hebei in the north have all seen steep climbs in wind power generation in recent years, which has helped local power producers to reduce reliance on high-emitting fossils.
In addition, higher generation of renewable power has helped cap power costs for consumers just as the prices of coal and natural gas have pushed sharply higher on international markets.
Going forward, the higher levels of wind generation will also play a vital role in providing power increased to China’s factories and industries following the easing of movement restrictions tied to COVID-19 that constrained growth last year.
Greater use of coal is also expected this year as China’s entire economy steps up a gear in response to Beijing’s stimulus measures that are aimed at reviving growth at businesses and more mobility across the population.
But more wind energy installations are also expected to be part of China’s development mix going forward, which should further accelerate China’s ongoing energy transition efforts and potentially widen China’s lead over other markets in terms of renewable energy deployment.