The Slow Rise of Asian Offshore Wind


July 16, 2012

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In European offshore, all eyes are on the prize. And with just under 4GW of installed capacity, the continent has got a mountain to climb if it’s to increase that figure tenfold in just seven and a half years.

However, it’s not just within Europe where offshore wind energy ambitions are running high.

In China, there’s a similar appetite for growth. And at this early stage it’s unsurprising that a country which has already achieved a whopping 62GW of installed onshore wind capacity is keen to repeat the trick.

Currently the People’s Republic has two early stage projects in the water, with Donghai Bridge having entered operations in 2010 and with the 131MW Longyuan Rudong Intertidal project due to enter operation later this year.

However, according the Global Wind Energy Council, that takes China’s total offshore installed capacity to just 258MW – small change for a country that has demonstrated such a show of strength when it comes to onshore operations.

And that’s not all. With the second round of bidding for offshore concession projects due to have taken place in the next couple of months, but now widely expected to be delayed, there’s trouble afoot.

In the ports, domestic businesses have made it clear that they see little progress within the local market and little incentive from government to try. As a result, many are sticking to what they know best – namely, winning large-scale orders from the West and exporting overseas.

That keeps manufacturing output high and leaves little capacity for the domestic market – all the while making the 5GW 2015 target seem all the more elusive.

There are however, a couple of significant developments that might just help tackle this hiatus and that in doing so, would undoubtedly change the dynamics of the international market once again.

The first is the wider appetite for offshore within the region.

South Korea has already set some impressive targets to help bolster its offshore growth and has developed an impressive ability to forge strategic commercial partnerships with the West. Japan too, is keen to dip its toe in the water, with offshore renewable energy widely expected to play an increasing role in its future energy mix.

And the second concerns future investment and finance.

Armed with competitive finance packages that undercut European rates and help manufacturers get turbines in the water, China has the potential to quickly boost its offshore market share, learn lessons and thereby reduce its domestic development phase.

For Europe, this cheap finance is highly competitive, often beating European finance rates, and for the developer it thus presents both an opportunity and a threat.

In a market keen to cut costs, cheap debt certainly helps. And utilising relatively unproven and untested turbines – in European waters – is high risk.

However, make no mistake, risk is relative. And as the likes of Sinovel increase their European market share, someone will roll the dice.

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