Qin Haiyan speaks with a ready smile, and these days he has much to smile about.

With more than two decades' experience in China’s wind energy development, Qin — secretary general of the Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA) — is witness to an offshore wind boom in China that has been boosted by policy support and improved technology.

Government efforts to transform China's coal-based energy system into one led by renewables will keep the momentum going, he says.

His organisation is supporting the government in setting new targets and creating a political framework favourable to rapid and sustainable development of wind energy for the 14th five-year economic development period that runs from 2021 to 2025.

Qin claims that China overtook the UK as the world's largest operator of installed offshore wind capacity this year. By June, China had increased utility-scale offshore wind electricity generation capacity to 11.13 gigawatts, surpassing the approximately 10.4GW of installed capacity that the UK had at the end of last year.

A significant ramp-up of offshore operations enabled the installation of 3.63GW of generation capacity in the first six months of this year.

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The pace will drop off next year, Qin says, as government subsidies end. But longer term, the sector will be key to achieving the country’s green initiatives of peak carbon emissions in 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

“Offshore wind will hit 'calm' in 2022 and 2023, but will soon gain strength again in about 2024,” he says.

Under the current policy, offshore wind projects that have secured approval in 2019 and 2020 have to be commissioned before the end of this year to be entitled to a government subsidy of 0.85 yuan ($0.13) for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

The rush to complete offshore wind turbine installations will result in record capacity installation of 5GW for 2021 — 2GW higher than last year — but will scale back to 3GW next year and in 2025.

In addition to urging local governments to continue to provide subsidies, Qin is lobbying regulators to endorse multiple projects so that operators can build in phases, suggesting that they may expect new incentives after central government subsidies end this year.

New subsidies

Under a new rule, the government of Guangdong province will subsidise 1500 yuan for each kilowatt of offshore wind capacity built in 2022, 1000 yuan per kilowatt for those built in 2023 and 500 yuan per kilowatt for those constructed in 2024.

A plan released in June calls for Guangdong to expand its offshore wind power-generation capacity to 4GW by the end of this year and to 18GW by 2025.

Although Guangdong has opted to continue subsidising offshore wind projects beyond this year, Qin doubts other provinces will follow suit.

He says that as the government continues its grip on near-shore sea use, citing environmental concerns, future offshore wind projects will stretch further offshore and have higher capacity, raising the demand for floating wind technology.

According to State Oceanic Administration regulations, all offshore wind farms should be built in at least 10 metres of water and 10 kilometres away from shore.

Chinese operators are developing at least four floating wind projects offshore China. The first of the floating turbines, developed by China Three Gorges offshore Yangjiang city, in Guangdong province, will soon start commercial operations, Qin says.

Claimed to be the world’s first typhoon-resistant facility, the 5.5 megawatt-capacity turbine is mounted on a 91- by 32-metre platform and can produce 5500 kilowatts per hour of electricity.

In 2019, Shanghai Electric, one of China's top offshore wind turbine fabricators, launched the country’s first 8MW offshore wind turbine, based on Siemens Gamesa technology, in Guangdong's Shantou city.

Qin says offshore wind is a much more viable energy transition strategy than carbon capture and storage (CCS), which he describes as a last resort in cutting emissions from fossil fuel production.

He agrees that CCS can contribute to decarbonisation but says "the economics won’t justify many of the projects”.

The high cost of extracting, pumping, compressing and storing carbon dioxide — and building pipelines that can transport it — has slowed CCS projects over the past decade.

Declining costs

“This is in sharp contrast to the significant decline in the cost of offshore wind in recent years,” Qin says, adding that the tariff for offshore wind has come down to 0.4 yuan per kWh for projects up to 100 kilometres away from shore and 0.5 yuan per kWh beyond that.

Qin graduated with a degree in vessel engine design from Shanghai Jiaotong University in 1994.

His career in wind energy began at China Classification Society, where he worked as a site surveyor for yards and offshore wind facility fabricators.

Qin’s responsibilities have included providing certification, testing and inspection services for offshore wind projects and vessels.

He has impressed his colleagues as enterprising, down-to-earth and persistent — and passionate about what he does.

Born in 1970 in Beijing, Qin has helped draft and amend industry standards for wind and solar power. He has engineered China’s certification system for wind turbines, photovoltaic products and solar-powered heaters.

Qin is vice chairman of the renewable energy standards organisation IECRE and the World Wind Energy Association.