Wind energy in China has been expanding at an incredible rate, and the Chinese government hopes to speed up this deployment in the future. Currently, China has approximately 62.4 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy installed, mostly in the remote northern and western regions of the country. Transmission infrastructure, however, has not kept pace; up to 20% of the power generated is wasted because the wind farms are not connected to the grid.
Microgrids could be the solution, or at least an interim step, to integrating this burgeoning generation capacity. By definition, microgrids incorporate distributed generation resources and have the ability to isolate, or “island,” themselves from the greater electric grid. Deploying microgrids near the sites of non-grid connected wind power would have three main benefits:
First, microgrids utilizing the wind generation would provide the surrounding communities with a more reliable source of electricity.
Second, since microgrids have their own generation resources, they draw less power from the electric grid than regular loads. This means that capital investments in transmission infrastructure would be reduced, since less power would need to flow into the microgrid, and already strained utility budgets would be eased. For example, a significant amount of wind capacity exists in Inner Mongolia, but the region has a relatively small load compared to the more urbanized parts of China. The regional utility, Inner Mongolia Grid, lacks the funds to build sufficient transmission capacity to the rest of the country. Using that power to create local microgrids would benefit both the region and the power producers.
The third benefit is more subtle. Microgrids enabled with storage components (e.g., batteries, flywheels, and so on) can be used to smooth out the intermittent nature of wind power. When wind power is greater than load in the microgrid, the electricity can be delivered to the national grid. With storage components installed, electricity could be delivered in a smoother and more predictable pattern. Not only would this cause less strain on the physical grid, but the stored power could also be used for peak shifting and load-leveling applications, if the storage capacity is large enough.
Along with the entire Asia Pacific region, China currently has a relatively small share of microgrid installations, only about 118 megawatts (MW), according to Pike Research’s Microgrid Deployment Tracker 4Q 2012. Microgrid deployments are accelerating in Asia, though, and significant increases in wind power should reinforce that trend.
Microgrid Capacity by Region, World Markets: 4Q 2012