China's offshore wind power facilitates harmonious human-nature coexistence, contributes wisdom to world's carbon reduction goals
Clean and Green
Published: Jul 27, 2023 08:20 PM
Editor's Note:

In his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, proposed to comprehensively advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization - the modernization of a huge population, of common prosperity for all, of material and cultural-ethical advancement, of harmony between humanity and nature, and peaceful development. 

Advancing Chinese modernization is a systematic endeavor and also an exploratory undertaking. It is through this framework that we wish to illustrate the process of the Chinese path to modernization through a series of landmark projects, touching stories, and grand visions. 

Xi stressed building a Beautiful China at the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection held in Beijing on July 17 and 18, calling to support high-quality development with a high-quality ecological environment, and accelerate the advancement of modernization featuring harmony between humanity and nature.

In this installment, Global Times reporters visited the world's first offshore wind turbine crop in an intertidal zone located in East China's Jiangsu Province to learn about how its development process epitomizes technical breakthroughs in Chinese modernization, and how such breakthroughs provide the world with valuable successful experiences in clean energy.

Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm 
Photo: Courtesy of Longyuan Power

Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm Photo: Courtesy of Longyuan Power

With the rhythmic hum of spinning blades slicing through the salty sea breeze, rows of white giants stick out of the Yellow Sea like something out of a science fiction novel. This is the world's first crop of offshore wind turbines in an intertidal zone - the Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm - in East China's Jiangsu Province, an area characterized by rapid industrialization and urbanization.

For senior engineer Ji Xiaoqiang, this crop of windmills is not only a technological marvel, but a childhood dream come true. Today, a total of 150 turbines generate 900 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power more than 223,000 households. Such results bring comfort to Ji, whose childhood memories are filled with occasional large-scale blackouts.

Each turbine is a testament to China's unwavering commitment to stably harnessing the power of nature while serving industrialization needs, and China's wise solutions to a cleaner future for many developing countries in the world.

China has accelerated its pace in implementing clean energy solutions, building the world's largest clean power generation system, exporting successful lessons, becoming an important force in promoting global clean energy development, and committing to making green, affordable electricity truly accessible to millions of households.

Flying birds and sea windmills decorate the distant skyline along the coast of Rudong. Photo: Courtesy of Longyuan Power

Flying birds and sea windmills decorate the distant skyline along the coast of Rudong. Photo: Courtesy of Longyuan Power

Huge potential to be tapped

Visiting the Longyuan Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm, Global Times reporters were impressed by the colossal turbines fitted to each windmill, as well as the size of the blades, each of which is half the size of the Eiffel Tower.

How did Chinese engineers manage to transport these giants from land to sea using domestically innovated technologies? 

Ji Xiaoqiang, deputy director of the offshore engineering department at the Jiangsu Longyuan Offshore Wind Power Co, Ltd (Longyuan Power), affiliated with the China Energy Investment Corporation, explained that the turbines are partially assembled on shore, and then shipped out to sea where each blade is attached with surgical precision to the top of a turbine. Every angle must be accurate to generate maximum power.

On a narrow 90-meter-high operating platform hanging over the Yellow Sea, Ji makes his rounds at the wind farm, carefully inspecting and servicing the turbines - a job not for the faint of heart. 

"Sticking chopsticks in tofu" is the most vivid metaphor for the intertidal wind power foundation construction.

China has abundant offshore wind energy storage. According to China's National Meteorological Bureau's estimates, the sea area within the 5 to 25-meter water depth line, or intertidal zone, has a potential generating capacity of about 200 million kilowatts. That means one hour of electricity generation could power at least 92 million homes for a year, according to calculation.

Take Jiangsu as an example. Its coastal area has abundant, peaceful wind resources, and strong grid structures, making it a great choice for the development of a wind power industry, Ji told the Global Times. But offshore exploration is far more difficult than onshore. 

With small supporting industries and equipment subjects to capricious Western controls, China's offshore wind power development lagged in the early stages. Ji and his fellow engineers have long been trying to figure out how to change the game.

It wasn't until 2011 that Ji and his team finally found the answer which marked the start of the era of large-scale Chinese offshore wind power generation.

Engineer Ji Xiaoqiang and his colleagues step inside a windmill at the Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm in May 2023. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

Engineer Ji Xiaoqiang and his colleagues step inside a windmill at the Longyuan Rudong Offshore Demonstration Wind Farm in May 2023. Photo: Hu Yuwei/GT

A difficult conquest

Initially, Ji and his colleagues attempted to choose concrete-poured foundations as they typically would for onshore windfarms. However, experience on land is hard to transfer. Even a millimeter-level deviation in verticality could pose a risk of hundreds of tons of generator towers collapsing into the sea, Ji said.

"We learned that the mainstream foreign solution was to put a sleeve at the connection between the foundation and the tower, fill it with the grouting material, and use the sleeve to balance the inclination. This sleeve acts as a key piece of equipment, like a 'waist,' for balancing the entire body of the generator. However, high-strength grouting material for the sleeve was not available domestically at that time, and relying on imports was too expensive and not wise for commercial use," Ji explained.

Against this backdrop, Ji and his team deliberated with experts, brainstormed multiple solutions, and finally created an innovative pile driver, which is like a giant hand that can grip a single pile and keeps it vertical when it is hammered into the seabed, maintaining the verticality error rate at below 0.2 percent. 

This eliminates the need for a transition sleeve and grouting material, dramatically reduces overall costs, and increases construction speed, fully meeting the needs of large-scale construction.

"It's a historic moment for our offshore wind power in China, and this innovative solution is now widely used in the domestic market. This can be learned by many countries that are eager to develop clean energy at a high speed," Ji said.

Such innovative attempts are never smooth sailing. This plan encountered failures in its first two attempts. It nearly cost the project all early investment, and Ji was also dogged by doubts expressed at home and abroad.

But it did not deter this young engineer. He quickly made adjustments to the solution, and polished the details with his team. It wasn't until days later, when cheers erupted after a successful third pile drive, that Ji set off firecrackers that he'd been saving for that very moment. 

Ji looked at the wind turbines, which his team nicknamed "white dolphins," emerging from the seaside in front of him and sighed with relief that people would not experience power outages caused by unstable voltage and industrial power overloads as he did as a child.

Ji told the Global Times that the marginal cost of wind power is relatively low, and China's solution is a good reference for coastal countries.

Harmony with nature

Along the coast of Rudong, flying birds and sea windmills decorate the distant skyline. Bird watching enthusiasts from across the country gather here as the sun sets, to observe rare birds such as the spoon-billed Snipe, armed with state-of-the-art cameras, a beautiful and impressive scene.

Harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature is a basic principle in China's ecological civilization construction and a distinct feature of China's vivid and effective practice along its path to modernization. 

Moreover, ecological civilization is a new requirement in the realization of harmonious development between humanity and nature. Such a principle is also upheld by China's offshore wind power development. 

In 2012, Longyuan Power, for example, signed China's earliest marine ecological restoration agreement with local governments for offshore wind farms. At present, it has made an investment of about 56 million yuan in ecological conservation in Jiangsu Province, for Yellow Sea breeding and release efforts, wetland environmental improvement, bird protection facility construction, and marine environment tracking and monitoring. 

Technology export

On June 28, with the completion of the final blade's mounting, the world's first 16-megawatt offshore wind turbine was successfully installed in East China's Fujian Province on the offshore wind farm owned by the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG). 

China's approach to offshore wind from scratch offers a solution to many countries, especially with regard to coastal regions, on how they can personalize their own energy development with innovative technologies, to achieve harmonious coexistence of humanity and nature, which are part of a global community of shared future. 

In 2022, China's wind power installed capacity reached 365 million kilowatts, ranking first in the world for the 13th consecutive year. The figure was about 1.4 times that of the EU at the end of 2020 and 2.6 times that of the US, according to data released by China's National Energy Administration.

China's cost-effective offshore wind power technology marks a historic leap in the country's wind power from following others to be a world leader. China has also exported some homemade wind turbines to countries including Thailand, Turkey, and Kazakhstan.

While some Western countries like the US are using various means to seize energy resources around the world, such as stealing oil from Syria, China is packaging and sharing advanced energy technologies and solutions with many developing countries. 

China's efforts to promote sustainable development and energy security for all nations demonstrate a commitment to global well-being and a departure from the narrow-minded, short-term thinking of some Western powers.

This stark contrast highlights the self-serving development model of Western countries versus China's concept of a global community of shared future.