Why is China's wind power generation not living up to its potential?

Joern Huenteler, Tian Tang, Gabriel Chan, Laura Diaz Anadon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Following a decade of unprecedented investment, China now has the world's largest installed base of wind power capacity. Yet, despite siting most wind farms in the wind-rich Northern and Western provinces, electricity generation from Chinese wind farms has not reached the performance benchmarks of the United States and many other advanced economies. This has resulted in lower environmental, economic, and health benefits than anticipated. We develop a framework to explain the performance of the Chinese and US wind sectors, accounting for a comprehensive set of driving factors. We apply this framework to a novel dataset of virtually all wind farms installed in China and the United States through the end of 2013. We first estimate the wind sector's technical potential using a methodology that produces consistent estimates for both countries. We compare this potential to actual performance and find that Chinese wind farms generated electricity at 37%-45% of their annual technical potential during 2006-2013 compared to 54%-61% in the United States. Our findings underscore that the larger gap between actual performance and technical potential in China compared to the United States is significantly driven by delays in grid connection (14% of the gap) and curtailment due to constraints in grid management (10% of the gap), two challenges of China's wind power expansion covered extensively in the literature. However, our findings show that China's underperformance is also driven by suboptimal turbine model selection (31% of the gap), wind farm siting (23% of the gap), and turbine hub heights (6% of the gap) - factors that have received less attention in the literature and, crucially, are locked-in for the lifetime of wind farms. This suggests that besides addressing grid connection delays and curtailment, China will also need policy measures to address turbine siting and technology choices to achieve its national goals and increase utilization up to US levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number044001
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dr. Huenteler contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank, its executive directors, or the countries they represent. The authors wish to thank two anonymous referees for useful comments on a previous version of this paper. They also thank Charlie Wise and Vaisala/3TIER for assistance with the management of wind speed data. Karl Aspelund provided excellent research assistance. This work was supported by four research institutions at Harvard University: the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, and the Sustainability Science Program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • China
  • climate change mitigation
  • renewable energy
  • renewable integration
  • wind power


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