China Playing Catch-up in Offshore Wind Technology: GWEC

A new analysis has revealed that while China is dominating in the supply of offshore turbines, it is still playing catch-up in terms of technology

In 2018, 11 manufacturers installed 735 units of offshore wind turbines globally, totalling 3,693 MW of capacity, and six out of these top ten suppliers are from China. The firms are Shanghai Electric, Envision, Goldwind, Mingyang, United Power and XEMC. Now, while China is certainly dominating in terms of supplying offshore turbines, they are still playing catch-up in terms of offshore turbine technology, a new analysis from GWEC has revealed.

The average wind turbine size in the global offshore wind market was below 5 MW before 2017,  with no major differences between Europe and China from 2010 to 2016. However, the situation changed after 2017 when the average size of a commercial offshore wind turbine installed in Europe surpassed 5 MW. The trend of installing larger-scale offshore wind turbine continues in Europe, primarily driven by the pressure of reducing LCOE. In 2018, the average size of installed offshore wind turbines passed 7 MW in Europe, with GWEC Market Intelligence forecast could reach as high as 8 MW in 2020 and around 10 MW in 2023.

Chinese offshore wind

Yet, the average annual offshore wind turbine size in China was still below 4 MW in 2018.  Feng Zhao, strategy director and author of the analysis reveals that this trend is, however, expected to change.

Driven by the same pressure to reduce LCOE, six Chinese turbine manufacturers have introduced large offshore models in the past 12 months, of which only one model is below 6 MW. Surprisingly, a 10 MW PMG generator has also rolled off the production line at Dongfang Electric in August 2019, and the turbine assembly was completed shortly after in its facility in Fujian province, becoming the second-largest direct drive offshore wind turbine prototype in the world.

Although the traditional fast speed wind turbine continues to dominate the Chinese offshore wind market, making up 70 percent of the market share in 2018, China is once again following in Europe’s footsteps with direct drive and medium-speed drive trains increasingly becoming the mainstream technology solution.

Out of the six Chinese turbine OEMs that introduced new models in 2019, Envision is the only one still pursuing the fast speed drive train solution while other companies such as CSIC Haizhuang and Dongfang Electric have switched to medium speed and direct drive solutions respectively. Once Shanghai Electric, China’s number one supplier in offshore wind technology, replaces its best seller 4 MW fast speed gear-drive model with its new 6-8 MW direct drive technology licensed by Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, GWEC Market Intelligence believes that the market share of traditional fast speed offshore turbines will drop to a 30 percent market share in China.

Taking into the account the nameplate capacity of the turbines selected for projects currently under construction in China as well as the announced commercial date for those large offshore turbine models, the agency believes that the annual average turbine size in China has the potential possible to pass the milestone of 5 MW in 2020 and 7 MW in 2025, making the country a true leader in offshore wind development.


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