Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 3

Inner Mongolian Household Wind Electric Systems
James H. Williams
Energy & Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050

Keywords: China, Energy, N S

Since the early 1980s, China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) has achieved widespread local production and dissemination of stand-alone wind electric systems among its rural herding population. The IMAR government has employed a combination of market and state planning mechanisms to create markets, adapt foreign technologies, and develop a unified system of design, manufacturing, distribution, and service. By 1998, 130,000 household wind systems provided electricity to over 500,000 people, or one-third of the herding population, and displaced substantial GHG emissions that would otherwise have been produced by coal or diesel alternatives.

The Inner Mongolia steppe is inhabited by ethnic Mongolian livestock herders earning US$120 per capita/yr. Because of low population densities (< 3 persons/km2) and high costs, only about 5% of the herding population is served by the regional electric grid or stand-alone diesel generators. To exploit IMAR's abundant wind resources, in 1980 the regional government appointed a high-level New Energy Leading Group (NELG) to oversee development, issuing four guidelines: (a) serve the pastoral population (b) emphasize basic household needs (c) make products "reliable to use, convenient to maintain, and affordable to herders" (d) "local management is the key, with the state providing appropriate support." (Byrne et al., 1998).

NELG-sponsored task forces and pilot projects brought together the agricultural, finance, and planning ministries, universities, research institutes, factories, local governments, and herders. Technical R&D and economic research produced four important results. First, products were developed that met herders' needs and were manufacturable by local industry. Second, demonstration projects familiarised herders with the technology. Third, key questions about programme implementation were resolved empirically, such as the decision to emphasize private ownership and individual household systems. Fourth, a unified network combining R&D, manufacturing, distribution, and service was created, under the leadership of the IMAR New Energy Office (IMARNEO).

The resulting manufacturing system is diverse. Six factories produce 20 different models of wind generators, from 50W to 7.5kW. The development of reliable low-cost turbines under 200W is a key innovation. Eleven factories manufacture batteries, inverters, and charge controllers. Water-pumping windmills and renewable energy products such as electric fences and DC lights are also produced. Service centres in 60 of IMAR's 88 counties, financially supported by county governments, employ 300 technicians who handle distribution, customer education, and service.

Most (>90%) household systems in IMAR include a 100W wind generator, 12V battery, and charge controller. They cost ¥2000-2500 (US$250-300) and typically power lights, radio, and black-and-white television. Recently, increases in household income have shifted demand toward larger systems, typically including a 300W wind generator and two batteries (US$500-600). New wind/PV hybrid systems supply power more reliably in the summer when wind resources are lowest.

Sales of wind systems are supported by a government subsidy of ¥200 (US$25) per 100W of capacity, or 10% of typical system cost. Since 1986, the government has provided ¥26.5 million (US$3 million) in subsidies, peaking at ¥4 million (US$500,000) in 1989 (Li, 1998). Subsidies were initially given directly to households, then to local governments; in both cases, abuses occurred. Since 1988 factories have been given the subsidy directly, which is passed on in reduced purchase prices (Lin, 1997).

Technology transfer has centred on local adaptation of foreign products. The design of the Shangdu Livestock Machinery Factory's 100W and 300W turbines, accounting for over 80,000 units in IMAR, grew from a collaboration between SVIAB of Sweden and the Shangdu plant, which produced turbines for SVIAB in return for the technology license. The key development was local design changes that altered the power curve of Shangdu generators, increasing power output at lower wind speeds. This is a crucial adaptation to the steady but low-speed wind resource in IMAR.

Up to 85% of IMAR systems are reported operational. Common problems involve batteries, blades, inverters, and charge controllers. Service centres keep statistics on failure rates. A technical board determines whether frequent failures result from quality defects or design flaws. Manufacturers address quality defects; R&D organisations such as IMAR Polytechnic University address design flaws. Joint ventures with foreign wind turbine and electronics manufacturers are currently being sought to improve blades and inverters.

(a) The IMAR wind programme has led to dramatic changes in quality of life, providing lighting, conveniences, and access to the outside world for low-income inhabitants of this remote region. A common wedding gift is now a wind generator or television, illustrating the extent of the technology's integration into the pastoral lifestyle. (b) Wind generators displace potential carbon emissions of about 10-15 ktC/yr based on an equivalent amount of electricity produced with diesel generators.

Lessons Learned
The IMAR programme exemplifies successful government leadership in rural energy using realistic programme guidelines, adequate preparatory research, multiple-stakeholder participation in goal-setting, coordinated use of plan, market, and subsidy, local project control, and adaptive management. Well-targeted subsidies have been effective. Technology transfer has been important, but has served as an adjunct, rather than as a principal driver of the process.


Byrne, J., B. Shen, and W. William Wallace, 1998: The economics of sustainable energy for rural development: a study of renewable energy in rural China. Energy Policy, 26(1),45-54.
Lin L., 1997: The development and utilisation of new energy sources in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region: review and outlook. Inner Mongolia Science, Technology and Economy, 4, 27-30.
Li D., 1998: The current situation of the wind power equipment industry in our country. New Energy, 20(1), 37-41.

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