Wind Battles Coal for Access to China’s Grid

Coal interests oppose technologies and rules that would prevent the waste of pollution-free power

4 min read
Photo: China Photos/Getty Images
Slow-wind Winter: This Inner Mongolia wind farm was built to serve populations to the east. But in winter, wind power is curtailed in favor of coal power, which provides heat as well.
Photo: China Photos/Getty Images

The 16th of October marks the start of heating season in northern China. Traditionally that means firing up coal boilers and pumping excess heat from big coal-fired electric plants to residences and businesses. This year, another heat source will join the mix: wind power. District heating systems across northern China are preparing to use small injections of heat from electric boilers that will be soaking up power generated from the region’s robust overnight winter winds.

Wind-to-heat demonstration projects, including installations in Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, and Xinjiang, will offset only a little coal. But their real raison d’être is to demonstrate a strategic sink for northern China’s massive wind farms, whose output is increasingly being crowded out of the electric power market by coal-fired turbines and has nowhere else to go.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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