Two visions for large-scale wind energy in Asia have been proposed by prominent voices. One would harness the changing north polar climate. The other would better protect Asia’s coastal cities against devastating storms.
Both offer creative ideas for dealing with climate change.
The first idea is from China’s State Grid Corp Chairman Liu Zhenya. The second is from America’s Stanford University researcher Mark Jacobsen.
State Grid’s Zhenya proposes creating a network of offshore wind farms in the Arctic Ocean. Zhenya estimates a series of polar wind farms could generate up to 20,000 Twhs of electricity per year. That’s more than three times China’s current annual electricity consumption.
This wind energy could be exported southward in three directions: to North America, to northern Europe and to Russia and China over High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power lines. Zhenya has dubbed this a ‘North Pole Intercontinental Transmission Highway.’
In his proposals, Zhenya argues that since the Arctic region lies roughly equidistant (3,000-5,000km) from three major highly-populated markets (Northern Europe, Northern China, North America) it could offer efficiencies in downstream distribution of wind energy.
Zhenya believes the special characteristics of Arctic winds could enable wind farms to operate at around 46% of capacity, or about 10% higher than the most efficient wind farms around today.
Zhenya outlined the proposals in June to an English-speaking audience at the European Union’s Sustainable Energy Week. He later presented the ideas to a conference in Washington DC. There, he expanded the ideas in calling for a ‘global energy internet.’
Zhenya, clearly a big thinker, considers projects like this as part of a multi-decade, three-stage move toward more integrated global electricity markets. But this, of course, hinges upon agreement being reached on various technical, commercial and marketplace standards.
The other big vision for global wind energy comes from Stanford University Environmental Engineering Professor Mark Jacobsen. Jacobsen believes large offshore wind farms could reduce the strength of ocean storms by converting some of that storm energy into electricity.
Writing in Scientific American, Jacobsen studied data from three recent hurricanes that hit land in the United States: Katrina (2005) and Isaac (2012), both of which hit the Gulf of Mexico, and Sandy (2012), which struck the region around New York City.
Jacobsen used climate-weather models to gauge how large-scale offshore wind turbine arrays of 300GWs or more might have weakened Katrina, Isaac and Sandy before they reached land.
Jacobsen concluded such arrays could reduce some hurricane winds by 50%, and some storm surges from 12-72%.
Jacobsen further concluded such arrays could cost less than storm barriers and large insurance claims. When other benefits (such as reduced carbon emissions) were included, Jacobsen estimated such offshore wind farms could produce electricity for US 4-9c per kilowatt-hour (c/kwh), compared to 10c/kwh for fossil fuel.
Jacobsen’s research could prove particularly valuable for Southern China and southeast Asia, where hundreds of millions of people live in a region battered by severe storms.
In late July of this year, southern China was hit by super Typhoon Rammasun,, which killed 56 people and caused nearly 40 billion yuan (or about US$6.2 billion) in damage.
Given that dramatic climate change in coming decades looks increasingly certain, the time has come to think big on projects combining technical audacity and deeper cross-border cooperation. It’s also important to start thinking of costs and benefits in a much broader fashion.
Jacobsen’s ideas for offshore wind in the South China Sea could provide a major spur for both China and Southeast Asia’s wind industry, particularly the offshore industry, to work more closely together.
By 2020, China wants either 15% of its wind output to come from offshore wind farms, of 30 GW, whichever is larger.
The timing is particularly fortunate since the offshore wind industry in Southeast Asia now looks to be building up momentum, with Taiwan, South KoreaJapan, and the United States all moving to develop the technology and open up offshore areas to wind farm development.
All the ideas above are timely. The reason is that they coincide with positive developments that are already happening. For instance, China plans to open a carbon market in 2016. A carbon market will establish an important regional market mechanism for valuing clean energy projects. China also has proposed an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, putting in place a major element of financing.
Later this year, China hosts the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group, a meeting place to discuss Asia and Pacific Rim issues. China has indicated that deepening economic integration among member countries will be a major topic for the meeting.
With carbon trading, bank financing and, ideally, political will now emerging for tackling climate change, what’s needed now are big ideas. Zhenya’s and Jacobsen’s ideas represent two very good ones.
China’s leadership has repeated stressed the advantages of deeper economic integration, and plans the topic as one for the agenda of the upcoming APEC meeting it will host in November.
Given this, deeper and broader brainstorming with regional partners on big new cooperative, interdependent infrastructure — brainstorming with regional partners on ‘big infrastructure.