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Chasing China's Wind Power, with Pure Heart

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To most people interested in the wind game in China, he bore a familiar face. He was a pioneer in the country's grid connected wind power development, a key inspirator of China's first Renewable Energy Law, and was widely recognized as the wind power person in China with frankness that earned him great respect industry wide.

He is Shi Pengfei, vice president of Chinese Wind Energy Association (CWEA), who was able to answer almost all questions about wind power market and policies in China, despite being retired for nearly a decade.

Born in 1940 in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Shi's association with wind power was quite accidental. With physics being one of his favorite subjects, he was recruited to a training team for gliders at a senior high school. But he missed only by a hair to qualify for the First National Student's Sports Meeting in 1959 and brought home a second-grade sportsman certificate.

Although he applied for an aviation-related college major, a discipline widely associated with national defense, it was turned down as his family was found to have relatives in Taiwan, a "renegade rival" according to the mentality then.

As luck had it, Shi was admitted as a machine designing major and was assigned to work in the remote western province of Qinghai after graduation.

In 1980, when Shi was director of technology and intelligence section at Xining Research Institute of Mechanical & Electrical Engineering for High Altitude, he joined a two-year overseas training program sponsored by the Ministry of Education to study wind energy application in the Netherlands.

It was at Delft University of Technology and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands that Shi Pengfei got acquainted with the early leading technology of wind power and involved in the testing of a 300 KW experimental wind turbine generator as well as wind-farm construction.

He spent the last half-year in Reading University, the United Kingdom, thanks to his command of English, studying a wind-diesel hybrid power system computer modelling.

Returned to Qinghai in 1984, Shi started working for the newly established Chinese Wind Energy Development Center under the State Commission of Science and Technology. In 1986 he first saw to a Sino-Belgian governmental project for building one of the country's earliest wind farms in Pingtan, Fujian. Later he participated in a Sino-UK governmental project building a wind/diesel hybrid power system on an island near Yantai, Shandong

In 1996, Shi, 55, was put in charge of the New Energy Division of China Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group, which was entrusted to handle the preliminary work such as planning and feasibility studies of the country's wind power development.

China's development of grid connected wind power debuted in the mid of the 1980s. Shi Pengfei was one of the pioneers who followed closely the course of every progress. Upheld as trusted authority in the field, his advice on wind power policies and technologies was taken seriously by both decision-makers and company managers.

In 1998, Shi also started to compile a record of wind farm installations across China, with up-to-date figures straight from developers and manufacturers, plus his on-site information gathering, just for the sake of accuracy. He had set foot on almost all important wind farms or turbine plants in China, including Taiwan. The data was then shared generously. For years it was the only reliable figures for the sector.

Due to its high cost, wind energy utilization proceeded rather slowly in the 1990s and China failed to meet the millennium goal of 1,000 megawatt in wind installation. The solution, he said, lied in developing the domestic turbine-manufacturing industry and building wind farms at a big scale.

In 2003, the government started to sponsor tendering for building and franchised operation of big wind farms. Domestic manufacturers mushroomed with a combined market share of 44.83 percent by installation at the end of 2007, against the 22.7 percent two years earlier.

Welcoming the franchise tendering, which had contributed to the scale development of wind farms, Shi did not favor the rule of the game, which determined as winner the bidder offering the lowest grid feed-in rates of electricity. The rule changed at last in 2007 in the fifth round of tendering.

As veteran wind power consultant, Shi played an essential role in drafting China's first Renewable Energy Law, which came into force on January 1, 2006. He proposed, among other things, a fixed rate of feed-in tariff of wind power and pressed for full amount purchase of wind power by grid operators. The former failed to be included in the Law, whereas wind energy prices formulated lately by the government for different regions were more or less to the same effect.

For the upcoming revision of the Renewable Energy Law, Shi is pushing for more incentives to grid operators. "If the grid companies continued to turn a cold shoulder to wind power, the full purchase would be a lip service," Shi said, adding that the compulsory green quota on energy companies also needs to be more detailed for implementation.

As the number of domestic manufacturers of wind facilities increased to nearly 80 in 2008, and China's cumulative installations grew to 5,900 megawatts in 2007, the target for 2020had been lifted from the initial 30,000 megawatts to probably 100,000 megawatts. Shi is concerned that small manufacturers would be weak in R&D capability and that China is not ready for that many turbines.

"It's no use to erect turbines that don't work or produce little electricity. Performances should be measured by the output of wind-generated electricity, rather than megawatts of installations. The industry is overheated. The mechanism of government decision-making on wind issues is not so scientific," Shi warned in his usual outspoken manner.

"An expert should be free of business interests. He should put forward proposals based entirely on the industrial development," he told China Features.

"Over the years Shi has been advocating speeding up wind power development in China. But he threw a damp blanket when he thought the sector went overheated," said Li Junfeng, secretary general of Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA), who had known Shi since 1984. He regarded Shi as the kind of person who spotted problems in the sector well ahead of others.

"That guy is always right," agreed James Penny, general manager of Wind Prospect China in his 2007 interview with the Denmark-published journal, Windpower Monthly.

Returning from the Netherlands, Shi has translated into Chinese "Wind Power Plants Theory and Design" by French author Desire Le Gourieres. Later he published a number of papers on China's wind power development. Co-authored the book Wind Power Generation, he was a long-standing member of the board of advisers for China's major industry publication, Wind Power. Shi made important contributions to the China contents of Wind Force 12 series, which is well known in the industry.

Born a sports person, Shi has overcome many harsh natural conditions that were part of the wind game, braving wild wind and wading through chilly water in winter to choose a site for a wind farm, more often than not, in a remote area.

Retired in 2001, Shi was no less busy, traveling extensively across China and the world. As deputy president of CWEA, he led a delegation to Taiwan in January 2007 for non-governmental exchanges with wind experts on the island. About one year earlier, during an official visit to Cuba, Fidel Castro showed Shi his personal collections of electrical appliances. "Professor, you're a wind expert. I am an electricity saving expert," noted the Cuban paramount leader.

Approaching his 70, Shi Pengfei still rides a bicycle to and from work, a double 14-kilometer 50-minute pedaling on a regular workday. "Once I left the office, I think nothing about work. I do sightseeing on the way," he said.

"Shi follows his own judgments. At the same time, he is friendly, tolerant and easy going," said Li Junfeng of CREIA. "He is an ordinary person who had made great contribution to the country's wind power development."

(Xinhua News Agency October 6, 2009)

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