The 300-foot, 400-ton turbine is one of 34 that will be installed at the Shanghai Donghai Bridge Offshore Wind Farm Project and is expected to be operational by May 2010.
When that project starts up, China will join a small club of European countries with working offshore wind farms -- Denmark, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
The U.S., whose offshore wind potential exceeds its entire electricity demand, has none -- though 2,000 megawatts of projects have been proposed, and their development appears likely under the Obama administration.
China's first commercial-scale offshore turbines will sit eight miles off the Shanghai shore and have a total installed capacity of 100 megawatts. (Note: In 2007, the China National Offshore Oil Corp started operation of China's first, small-scale "model" offshore wind plant, with a generating capacity of 1.5 megawatts.)
The turbines will generate 260 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually -- enough to power 100,000 homes.
But not for cheap. At about $337 million, the Shanghai project costs twice as much as an onshore plant with the same capacity.
Globally, those high construction costs have been a barrier to development of offshore wind, particularly in the fastest-growing wind markets of the U.S. and China, where wind on land is plentiful and turbine construction is cheap, relatively speaking.
But the offshore resource is too energy advantageous to ignore. Coastal gusts are stronger and steadier than land ones, with great potential to generate higher volumes of electricity. Another plus? The most promising offshore wind is often near population centers, greatly reducing transmission costs.
On the Shanghai Donghai Bridge investment, People's Daily adds:
"...although the wind farm requires a high one-time cost, it will basically not consume any energy after completion, realizing clean power generation. The generators have a designed life expectancy of 25 years. Considering their total service life, their costs are relatively low."
As part of its fiscal stimulus, China announced a $30 billion, four-year green recovery program, in large part to bolster its national wind output. How much of that will go to expanding offshore wind? If common sense prevails, a lot.
The resource has the potential to provide up to 750,000 megawatts of electricity for the power-starved nation. That's more than its total installed electricity generating capacity today, which hit a record 713,000 megawatts at the end of 2007.
"China has the largest wind resources in the world and three-quarters of them are offshore," Barbara Finamore, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Beijing office, told Scientific American.
China's onshore wind resource has been growing at a breakneck pace, with installed capacity doubling each year for the past four years. In 2009, a repeat performance is expected, even as the country's GDP is being halved.
That puts the nation on track to overtake Germany and Spain as the world's number two in wind power installations by 2010, the Global Wind Energy Council predicts.
Beijing-based Sinovel, maker of the offshore turbines for the East China Sea project, is now one of the world's top ten wind turbine suppliers by installed megawatts, after just three years in operation.
In total, there are at least 40 wind turbine manufacturers at work in China. Several have their eyes on export markets. And that means relatively cheap turbines, made in China and by China, could be coming to a windswept plain or coastal metropolitan center near you -- a potentially disruptive shift in the global energy sector.
For those keeping track of the economic "competition" between the US and China on wind, however, America still holds the lead. It became the world's top wind power producer in 2008.
And U.S.-based GE Energy has almost caught up to Denmark-based Vestas as the world's number one turbine maker.
And while China may have beat America to the offshore wind punch, keep in mind that the global clean energy equation changed dramatically when President Obama took office. For the most definitive signal of what's to come in this area, read this press release issued yesterday by the U.S. Department of Interior. It's titled:
"U.S. Offshore Wind Resources Could Lead America's Clean-Energy Revolution."
There is "significant wind and wave potential in U.S. offshore waters," the agency says. The data:
The National Renewable Energy Lab has identified more than 1,000 gigawatts of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, and more than 900 gigawatts of wind potential off the Pacific Coast. The lab estimates that the class 5 wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states exceeds the entire U.S. electricity demand.
The agency also announced that it reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to work together to facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said:
"Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to
slow down our progress."
With Obama in charge, the global renewable energy race just got a whole lot more interesting.