Author Archives: Kaare Sandholt

How to boost RE development in China

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China National Renewable Energy Centre, CNREC, is now launching the website “Boosting RE as part of China’s energy revolution”.

At you will find the latest news, research results, reports and blog posts of the activities in the five-year program funded by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, CIFF. The program seeks to boost the deployment of RE, encourage the dominant role of RE in the future China energy system, and ultimately promote the transformation of China’s energy system into an economic sustainable, environmental friendly and low-carbon system.

Also follow CNREC on Linkedin to get updated news about China National Renewable Energy Centre and the “Boosting RE in China” program.

The dispatch centre at

Lessons learnt from the European power system transformation

Europe is these years’ test laboratory for the future power system, and Europe’s “new normal” will also become the Chinese power sector’s “new normal” in the future. Here are some early take-aways from the European energy transformation.

In the beginning of July the Danish wind power plants produced a record high 140% of the electricity consumption in Denmark two nights in a row and then dropped to almost zero within a half day without any disturbance in the power system. Similarily, on the morning of March 20th, the German grid operators managed to deal with the rapid fluctuations of 39,000 MW of solar PV during the solar eclipse.


These two examples illustrate that the future European electricity system will be completely different from the electricity system during the last century, which was mainly based on fossil fueled and nuclear power plants. The future, European energy system will have variable energy production from wind and solar as the backbone and the remaining thermal power plants (fossil or nuclear fueled) will adapt to the variation in the load as well as the variation in the production from solar and wind. According to a recent, European study from Agora Energiewende, it is claimed that in 2040 there will be no base-load power unit left in Europe (base-load units produce with full capacity day and night for a longer period, typically with around 6000 or more hours with full-load during a year’s 8760 hours).

How will this be possible without jeopardizing the security of supply? The keyword here is “flexibility”. Flexible power plants, flexible dispatch of transmission lines and flexibility in the demand will do the trick, which has already been demonstrated by the European experiences. Maybe in the future electricity storage would be an additional tool in the flexibility toolbox, but the European experiences indicate that it is possible to cope with large amount of variable power without expensive storage.

China also wants a deep transformation of the energy system – a Chinese “energy revolution” – with a higher percentage of renewable energy. So what could China learn from the European experiences?

In my opinion there are four main lessons from the energy transition in Europe:

1. Fossil fueled power plant can be very flexible.
In Denmark coal-fired power can operate down to 10% of installed capacity, they can change their production up and down very quickly and they can start up fast. The power plants were not as such born with good characteristics regarding flexibility; they have been developed by a thorough trial-and-improve process. The main achievements have been reached by training and changed in the control centre of the power plant – not by massive new investments.

The Chinese coal fired power plant are very similar to the Danish power plants, most of them are even newer, therefore technical problems in creating the same flexibility for the Chinese power plants will not be likely.

2. An efficient power market with hourly prices is necessary to create flexibility in the power system.
The owner of a power plant would only consider flexible operation if it is beneficial for him/her, either by recieving a reward for flexibility or being punished for inflexible operation. The European market system with hourly prices, depending on the supply and the demand, clearly gives incentives for producing when the price is high (lower production and/or high demand) and to stop producing when the price is low (increased production and/or low demand). If your power plant is inflexible you will soon start loosing money because your costs often will be higher than the price that you recieve for the electricity produced. Some European power markets even require you to pay to get rid of your production, if the supply is higher than the demand.

In China the power producers have no incentives for being flexible. On the contrary they will loose money and market shares if they try to run the power plants by flexible standards. This is one of the most significant obstacles for integration of wind and solar, and it explains to a large extent why China is in the habit of curtailing wind power production, while this is very rare in Europe. Luckily, the Chinese government is pushing for a revival of the power market reform, which hopefully will create the necessary incentives for flexibility.

3. The transmission system must be large and flexible.
The European experiences clearly shows that the large transmission systems are very efficient in integrating variable energy. Transmission systems allow for reducing the variability of wind and solar by integrating larger areas – this is often called the “smoothening effect”, because the wind speed and the solar radiation is not often the same all over Europe. But it requires that the transmission system is operated in a flexible way. If the dispatch of a transmission line is fixed, e.g. on a monthly basis, it is of no use in the wind and solar power production, which is typically predictable from day to day and often will deviate from the forecast within the day of operation.

In China the transmission system has been developed rapidly during the last ten years, and a large number of long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines are being build or are in the planning stage. However, the transmission lines are not being dispatched in a flexible manner and the long-distance lines are typically planed to be base-load supply to the load centres. This is a huge obstacle for harvesting the benefits from renewable energy by efficient integration of the variable production. Also the Chinese transmission lines should be part of the future Chinese power market and operated according to the price signals from the market.

4. The changing mindset in the power sector.
The last two decades have not been easy for the typical old-school power sector CEO. He was used to lead a large monopoly company, which basically could decide on its own how and when to establish new power generation; it’s customers could not change to another company, and no competitors were allowed to have access to the grid. Today it is totally different. The coal fired power plants are threatened by renewable energy, the customers can choose other suppliers or even choose to produce by themselves with distributed generation and the transmission grid are owned and operated by independent system operators looking at the society as a whole and not only on the profit of the generators. The best of the old power producers have adapted to the new situation – maybe slowly, but nevertheless, they are now ready to be a part of the future power sector. Others are still stuck in the old-school thinking and they will experience even harder times in the future and have a difficulty surviving in the not-so-long run.

The Chinese, energy transformation has only recently begun and most of the power sector’s mindset is still turned on to the existing “normal” with coal power as the backbone of the power system. But also in China the “new normal” will be a much more flexible power system with renewable energy in a dominant role. The lessons from Europe are that the most agile companies are the survivors, because they are able to foresee and adapt to the future framework conditions and will not risk being stuck in the old-school “normal”.

This blog was first published at


Will China reach it’s 2014 targets on Solar PV?

3,3 GW new installed capacity in the first half year of 2014 is indeed impressive for the Chinese solar PV development, but it is quite far from the 14 GW the National Energy Administration (NEA) announced as target for 2014 in the beginning of the year.

New installed PV capacity in China 2006-2013

New installed PV capacity in China 2006-2013

The installed capacity in the first half of 2014 might not be alarmingly low. In 2013, where the total new installed capacity reached 13 GW, the main installations happened in the second half of the year. The newly released figures for 2014 might however have given NEA reason to reassess the 2014 targets. Several sources cite the head of NEA, Wu Xinxiong, for new 2014 targets: says the new target is 13 GW, mainly from distributed PV, while the July Briefing paper from AECEA cite Wu Xinxiong for a target as low as 10 GW. AECEAs own estimation is however more in line with the 13 GW that quote.

New PV capacity in first half of 2014 (MW)

New distributed PV capacity in first half of 2014 (MW)

New utility based capacity in first half of 2014 (MW)

New utility based capacity in first half of 2014 (MW)

The main difference between 2013 and 2014 is that NEA now has high priority to distributed PV installations. In 2013 only 1 GW of the total 13 GW new installed capacity was distributed PV capacity, while 12 GW was utility based solar power plants. The targets for 2014 from the beginning of the year were 8 GW distributed PV capacity and 6 GW utility based capacity. The figures for first half of 2014 shows 1 GW distributed capacity and 2.3 GW utility based capacity.

The regional distribution of the new installed capacity for first half of 2014 is clear: The solar power plants are installed in the North and North West China, with Xinjiang in the top with 900 MW, while the distributed capacity is installed in East and South China.


China wind power development back on track, but…..

The latest market report from GWEC is encouraging reading for the Chinese wind industry, but the main challenges for the future development are still not solved.

The new Global Wind Statistics 2013 from Global Wind Energy Council shows a global recession in the wind power development with the Chinese market as a remarkable exception. After two years with lower new installed capacity than the previous year, 2013 gave 16 GW new capacity in China, now reaching a total installed capacity of 91.4 GW wind power.

Annual installed wind power capacity in China in MW.

Annual installed wind power capacity in China in MW. Source: GWEC.

The un-official NEA target for 2013 was 18 GW and this is probably the level of new capacity NEA would like to see for the years to come for on-shore turbines. The peak in installed capacity was in 2010 with almost 19 GW, while 2011 and 2012 showed a decrease (17.5 GW and 12.9 GW).

For the Chinese wind industry this is good news. The Chinese wind manufacturers are totally depended on the Chinese market – only the biggest companies have succeeded in global activities on a small scale – and the last couple of years have been a nightmare for a number of companies with Sinovel as the most known. And a level of around 18 GW annually would give new wind to at least the biggest and most competitive companies.

But the crisis in the Chinese wind industry is probably not finished yet for several reasons.

Firstly, the main barriers for integration of wind power into the Chinese energy system have not be removed. In average more than 20% of the potential wind power production is curtailed on a yearly basis, and some wind farms experience more than 40% of the yearly production is curtailed. Needless to say that this is jeopardizing the economy of the wind farm projects if this continue. The integration issue is first and foremost a question about the right incentives for the thermal power plants to be more flexible – the cure is quite clear, but such institutional changes require a strong hand from the whole government and coordinated effort from a number of different ministries.

Secondly the Chinese government aims to gradually reduce the size of the Feed-In-Tariff, which again puts strong requirements on the future development of the wind turbines to lower the total cost of energy – both the investment cost but not least improving the reliability and reducing the operational costs.

Thirdly the requirements from the grid to the wind turbines are increasingly strong. This is necessary in order to technically integrate a larger share of wind power and also in line with the global development, where wind turbines more and more is considered as “normal” power plants with requirements or delivering different types of services to the power system. This put even more pressure on the Chinese wind manufacturers to be innovative and deliver with high quality. On the other hand – if the Chinese manufacturers can deliver to the future Chinese market they will also be able to compete on the global market to the benefit of the global development and deployment of wind power.

So let us enjoy the revival of the Chinese wind power market in 2013, but let us hope the Chinese wind turbine manufacturers and the Chinese government will be able to act quickly on the current challenges. Failure to act will be a serious threat to the future for the Chinese wind power industry and for the global wind power development as such.

The dispatch centre at

Integration of RE – made simple

“Why make it complicated when it is simple” might be the motto of – the Danish Transmission System Operator, at least when it come to explain the fundamentals regarding integration of variable renewable energy. But of course the have the experience, with 55% of the electricity consumption in December 2013 delivered by wind power.

At the IRENA assembly in Abu Dhabi, Peter Jørgensen, Vice President for International Relations, gave a short, but very clear presentation of the challenges, means and the preconditions for a successful grid-integration.

The main challenges for variable RE compared to conventional power production is how to develop the energy system to maximize the value of the generation as it come. The characteristics for these RE technologies – the variability of the renewable resources, the location of the energy production – which might be far from load centres or as household connector photovoltaic, and the cost structure with large upfront investments and almost zero marginal energy costs – stresses the “old” energy system and the “old” thinking about how to run the power system and power markets.

The Danish energy system a January night with high wind power production

The Danish energy system a January night with high wind power production

In order to solve this challenge, focus should be on grid development and flexibility measures. Peter Jørgensen underlined at the presentation the fact, that investments in transmission lines are much cheaper than investments in power generation, and strong transmission grids will be able to balance RE sources in larger areas. Furthermore competitive electricity markets are necessary to ensure optimal utilization of the transmissions grid in a flexible way.

The flexibility measures includes grid codes to ensure stability, and clear price signals reflecting the system balance to incentivize dynamic response. The SmartGrid concept should be replaced by SmartEnergy to optimize RE utilization across energy sector and support price flexibility. Last but least, new operational procedures and forecasting tools are needed to ensure efficient system balancing and security of supply.

To make this happen, a political commitment and regulatory framework is a prerequisite, together with long term grid planning and a similar coherent energy system planning to ensure the optimal use of RE in all sectors. And a new paradigm for system operation is a must, ensuring the right price mechanisms for flexibility in generation and demand, and ensuring a dynamic and efficient system balancing and security of supply

Ok, implementation of means and preconditions might not be simple but a clear picture of what is needed and why, must be the starting point. And I think that Energinet’s presentation hit the nail here!

See the presentation here.

China RE overview

China: 2012 the first year with more than 20% RE power share

New consolidated data for RE now available

China RE share developmentDespite a impressive growth in the RE capacity in China, it has been difficult for renewable energy to gain a significant share of the total electricity production. For the period 2000 to 2010 the percentage has been closer to 15% than to 20% in most years, hardly keeping pace with the high growth rates in electricity consumption. However, in 2012 the share passed the 20% line and reached 20.2%, mainly due to and increase in hydro power and wind power.

A new publication from China National Renewable Energy Centre (CNREC) gives a good overview of the development of renewable energy in China from 2000 to 2012. Previous figures for capacity and production of hydro, wind, solar and biomass has been consolidated and revised in order to give the most accurate picture of the development. Furthermore, more information regarding investments and comparison with other countries and regions are brought up to date. Finally, the leaflet gives an overview of the Chinese RE policy and current RE targets. Download it from CNRECs web site.

Liu Qi at IRENAs 4. assembly session

China now active member of IRENA

China high RE-ambitions confirmed by entering the International Renewable Energy Agency

After a period as observer, China has now formally entered IRENA as member country. At the 4th session of the IRENA assembly Liu Qi, the vice director of China’s National Energy Administration and head of the Chinese delegation, recognized the work carried out of IRENA as a very important part of the global development of renewable energy. International cooperation is necessary to promote RE, and IRENA is a good platform for China’s engagement in such cooperation.

China’s active involvement in IRENA is a clear sign on the Chinese governments commitment to an ambitious development of renewable energy in China. The activities within the framework of IRENA will help in overcoming the barriers in China for reaching the RE targets. Furthermore China sees IRENA as a platform for strong international cooperation on removing trade barriers for RE globally and for strengthen the deployment of RE in the developing countries. China will actively support this development by support to capacity building and training activities to promote knowledge and state-of-the-art solutions globally.

Successful IRENA session

The fourth session of the IRENA assembly with more than 600 participants showed a consolidated organisation with strong support from the member countries and with useful products to showcase. The IRENA REMAP was presented, giving clear indications that it is possible to reach the UN targets of doubling the share of RE towards 2030 compared with 2010, and that it can be done without additional costs, especially taking into account the potential for enhanced energy efficiency. Also the IRENA cost analyses and analyses of job creation give a good platform for dissemination of trustworthy information about the real possibilities for RE in the global energy system. See more about the IRENA activities and the results from the assembly at the IRENA web site.

IRENA Africa meeting Jan 2014

Africa Clean Energy Corridor – Warming up to the IRENAs annual meeting 18 to 19 January

Africa Clean Energy Corridor – Warming up to the IRENAs annual meeting

IRENA have it’s fourth session of the Assembly in Abu Dhabi today and tomorrow. For me it is a special occasion since China formally will be member of IRENA, hopefully to the benefit for both IRENA and China. More about this in following blog posts.

Yesterday – as a warm up to the Assembly – focus is on Africa and how to establish a Africa Clean Energy Corridor – from Cairo to Cape Town. A number of ministers from Eastern and Souther Africa Power Pool countries discussed the potential benefits of a large scale regional initiative.

The background for the discussion is, that the current energy supply in the area is dominated by fossil fuels, the energy demand is rapidly growing, and so is the exchange of energy between the countries through new interconnectors. The potential for renewable energy (RE) usage is very high, but without special initiatives fossil fuel technologies will probably continue to play the major role in the energy supply in the future.

Among the main challenges for the deployment of RE are how to make such project bankable, and how to reduce investor risk. Also lack of knowledge about RE technologies in the different countries is blocking for a rapid development, and furthermore lack of transmission capacity might be a serious barrier for the efficient utilization of the huge RE potential, which are uneven distributed in the Eastern and Southern Africa.

The ministers and representatives for the participating countries pointed to the need for active policy actions and determination, as well as a common understanding between politicians about the possibilities for RE in the region. Capacity building is considered as an very important activity for enabling a more rapid deployment of RE, and also the importance of electricity connections, not only between the countries but also to areas outside of the region was emphasized as a necessary next step.

A partnership panel supported the overall picture drawn by the ministers. China as example emphasized the need to actively promote RE before fossil fuels and to pay attention to the development of the infrastructure to integrate RE.

As a conclusion of the meeting the involved countries approved a final communique, which commit the countries to work with IRENA on the following Action Agenda to promote and accelerate the development of the Africa Clean Energy Corridor:

i. Zoning and Resource Assessment: Partner with expert institutions to identify zones for the development of renewable power plants in areas of high resource potential and routes for the efficient transmission of electricity to load centres. IRENA should expand its Global Renewable Energy Atlas to help identify promising development zones.

ii. Country and Regional Planning: Work with regulatory and planning bodies and expert institutions, including at the regional level, to encourage integrated resource planning that fully considers renewable power options to optimize investments in generation and transmission infrastructure. IRENA should also support the inclusion of more renewable power in country and regional plans by providing targeted information and data, especially on the declining costs of renewable energy technology.

iii. Enabling Frameworks for Investment: Cooperate closely with international financial institutions to encourage innovative financing structures, such as loan guarantees, that reduce risk and leverage government and donor resources. IRENA should support the development of government policies to enable investments in renewables and the creation of bankable project proposals through the Project Navigator.

iv. Capacity Building: Work with regional bodies, countries, donors and research institutions to build the human and institutional capacity to plan, construct and operate power systems with a greater share of renewable generation. In this context, IRENA should facilitate the sharing of best practices and lessons learnt.

v. Public Information: Raise awareness on the Africa Clean Energy Corridor at the global, regional, and country levels to promote the benefits of the Corridor in providing secure, sustainable and affordable energy to meet rising energy demand.

The communique will be presented at the Assembly session tomorrow as the basis for the next years’ platform for cooperation between IRENA and the Eastern and Southern Africa.

Read more here


Green renevenus for green energy – full report launched

The full CNREC – IIISD report on green revenues is now released. The report includes case stories from eight countries on how green revenues can be used to stimulate transition towards a more green energy system and point to the potential impact for China of such policy measures. Find the report here and a short wrap-up of the summary in my previous post.


Time for more flexibility in the Chinese power system

Lack of flexibility is one of the biggest obstacles for integration of fluctuating renewable energy in the Chinese power system. The thermal power plants and the transmission grid are currently operated too inflexible, which especially in North China results in massive curtailment of wind power.

Looking more into the problems reveals both technical challenges, lack of economic incentives and regulatory issues as the main reasons for this inflexibility, which damages the further development of renewable energy in China.

Fortunately experiences from other countries show that these problems can be overcome. In Europe curtailment of renewable energy is very small, even in areas with much higher share of renewable energy that in the Northern China.

One of the secrets behind Denmark’s large share of wind power is the extreme flexibility of the thermal fossil fired power plants. Due to years of continuous effort, most of the Danish power plants have very low minimum capacity output for on-grid operation, they have fast up and down regulating capabilities, and they are able to have a quick start-up from zero to full load, compared to power plants in other countries. Establishment of a time-dynamic pricing for power purchase via a well-functioning market has been a strong motivator for this development. The dynamic pricing, with high prices when the demand is high and uncontrolled power supply is low and visa versa, send a clear signal to the power producers when to produce and when to avoid producing.


Danish experiences were presented at a CNREC-RED expert meeting on flexible power plants 4 December 2013

Danish experiences were presented at a CNREC-RED expert meeting on flexible power plants 4 December 2013

Flexibility for the thermal power plants was the topic to an expert meeting on 4 December 2013, arranged by CNREC and the Sino-Danish RED program. Experts from Denmark shared their experience in how to make coal-fired power plants more flexible. The meeting also discussed the lack of economic incentives for the Chinese power producers to operate more flexibility.

You can find more information about the meeting and the presentations from the meeting here.