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
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.
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.