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Climate Change

China's share of new wind power tops 90% of region's total in 2020

Asia-Pacific leads world as Beijing pushes to meet zero carbon goal

Wind turbines in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia: China is rapidly expanding its wind power capacity to meet a net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2060. (Photo by Yusuke Hinata)

TOKYO -- China installed a record 52 gigawatts of new wind power capacity in 2020, driving global growth in renewable energy, according to data from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), a Brussels-based trade association.

China's installation of wind power facilities doubled compared with the previous year, setting a record for the biggest annual increase. There was a last-minute installation rush before the withdrawal of feed-in-tariff subsidies for onshore wind at the end of last year. As a result, China accounted for more than 90% of the wind power installed in the Asia-Pacific region. Utilities, in particular, have been installing wind farms in inland parts of the country.

Driven by strong growth in China, newly installed wind power capacity grew by 78% the Asia-Pacific region in 2020, compared with the previous year. Newly installed capacity totaling 56 GW in the region drove global growth, accounting for 60% of all new capacity added.

In all, the Asia-Pacific now has nearly 347 GW of wind power capacity, giving it the largest share in the world. China alone has more available power than Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America combined, according to GWEC, which represents over 1,500 companies and organizations, including turbine makers Vestas of Denmark and China's Shanghai Electric.

Wind power output has grown continuously, helped by falling costs and commitments by countries to use more renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to an estimate last year by Lazard, a U.S. consultancy, the levelized cost of electricity -- that is, the average cost producing power over the equipment's lifetime -- from onshore wind is $26 to $54 per megawatt-hour, which is cheaper than coal, at $65 to $159 per MWh, or gas, at $44 to $73 per MWh. According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency, in 2018, wind energy accounted for about 19% of all electricity generated by renewables including hydropower.

Despite the end of subsidies for onshore wind, growth in China is expected to continue, said Wanliang Liang, China Director at GWEC. "New installations of wind power in 2021 will not be lower than 40 GW, and even more in later years," he said, as the country aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Liang added that offshore wind farms grew strongly in 2020, and "will account for at least 10% of new installations in the years to come."

The second-largest growth driver was India, which installed 1.1 GW of new capacity. Despite the additions, its growth slowed compared with previous years, with new installations falling in 2020 to their lowest level since 2004.

On top of slowdowns since 2018 brought on by infrastructure and regulatory hurdles, projects in India suffered from nationwide lockdowns last year due to COVID-19. According to Bloomberg NEF, about 2 GW of wind farms were scheduled to come online last year, but were delayed until 2021.

Australia ranked third in terms of new installations with 1 GW, while Japan was fourth with 449 MW and South Korea sixth with 160 MW. The latter two, which last year announced net-zero emission targets by 2050, have set ambitious goals for increasing wind power capacity. Japan aims to install up to 45 GW of offshore wind by 2040, and South Korea plans to build the world's largest offshore wind farm by 2030, with a capacity of 8.2 GW, according to reports.

"We are beginning to see new wind power markets emerge in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in Southeast Asia," said Liming Qiao, head of GWEC Asia. Vietnam, which added 125 MW in 2020, is among the promising markets. Qiao also suggested the strong push for renewable energy in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia makes them potential growth markets for wind energy.

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