Eleven percent. That’s the total amount of wind capacity in China that, last year, wasn’t used. It was 20% in some northern provinces.
That smacks of a major grid issue. It also indicates a wider trend.
The rate of turbine installations in China has accelerated over recent years – with this Asian mega-market set to add as much as 20GW of capacity in 2015.
That’s almost twice as much new onshore power being developed in Europe, and more than three times as much as new installations in North America. Tellingly, it also means that China is adding in one year capacity equivalent to four times the total install base of Denmark, a pioneering nation in the rollout of wind.
And yet it’s not the domestic grid and transmission challenges that have been catching the attention of manufacturers and developers recently. It isn’t even the sheer size and scale of China’s current domestic installation base – 90GW by the end of 2014 – that’s grabbed the interest of the industry.
Rather, it’s the far more pressing issue of feed-in tariffs and government incentives that’s suddenly been pushed to the fore. With all this new capacity coming online, and with the aim to build out an installation base of 200GW by 2020 now underway, changes must be made in government financing.
For policy makers, this involves cutting tariffs to scale back growth in new construction. A tariff cut of 11% by the National Development & Reform Commission has been mooted, potentially coming into effect as soon as 30 June 2015.
As we’ve seen in Europe and the US that creates a funnel effect, accelerating short-term construction and exacerbating grid issues.
But the thing with China is that, given the size of the market, those effects won’t only be felt domestically. They’ll resonate globally.
To date, the Chinese manufacturing market has made a good play of focusing its efforts on export sales – and firms such as Goldwind and Envision have been quick to diversify away from the domestic market and, to a certain extent, de-risk themselves.
However Goldwind, China’s biggest turbine manufacturer, will account for at least 4GW of domestic installations in 2014. If those tariff cuts come into effect and the market dips, that’s a significant potential revenue drop.
The company this week reported that its full-year profit may quadruple year-on-year to $314m this year after orders rose. It is easy to imagine that reversing if orders fall. And this also means that the firm will undoubtedly look to mitigate against the impact of any subsidy cuts by refocusing on expansion overseas.
Over recent years, as the established markets of North America and Europe have peaked, manufacturers and developers have looked to emerging markets for growth. Competition from Chinese counterparts has, to a greater degree, been sparse.
With talk of a Chinese tariff cuts around the corner, just how much this dynamic will shift, as manufacturers looks to keep the factories busy, is a big unknown.
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