Iced Covered Wind Turbines Hamper China’s Efforts to Retire Coal

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

As China struggles with a surge in energy demand brought on by their economic recovery and a cold snap, the reputation of wind power has suffered a blow, as freezing temperatures covered wind turbines in Hunan with ice.

China’s winter chills clean energy transition as factories fire up


BEIJING/YIWU, CHINA (REUTERS) – China’s harsh winter and stunning manufacturing recovery this year have pushed up electricity demand across the country’s industrial belt, complicating Beijing’s drive to cut businesses’ power usage and their reliance on polluting coal-fired energy.

The surge in demand also comes as the cold hampers the ability of renewable energy to fill the gap left by a severe coal shortage, raising doubts about the reliability of cleaner sources to power the world’s second-largest economy during critical periods.

Coal supplies, meanwhile, are tight despite record domestic output in November as a runaway economic recovery sucks up power.

To address localised power shortages, Beijing has urged coal miners to ramp up output and energy firms to diversify gas sources. It has also allowed customs to clear imported coal that had built up at ports during the summer due to unofficial import quotas aimed at supporting local producers.

While Australian coal has reportedly been excluded from customs clearances, it accounts for less than 3 per cent of China’s total thermal coal usage.

In the southern provinces of Jiangxi and Hunan, which rely heavily on hydro and renewables, demand this season overwhelmed supply, with coal plants unable to fill the gap after local miners were shut due to environmental and safety reasons and national curbs on output earlier this year, crimping supply.

In Hunan, wind turbines were frozen by an early cold snap this month that brought ice and snow.

Read more:

If only China had built more wind turbines in Hunan, then they could have had even more pretty static ice sculptures to celebrate the Christmas season.

The pictures above were taken in in 2019, so my guess is icing up of wind turbines in Hunan is a regular occurrence.

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Jeff Alberts
December 24, 2020 10:05 am

Helicopters with big diesel tanks and giant flame-throwers. Problem solved!

Paul C
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
December 24, 2020 11:53 am

As you probably know, it’s the same as de-icing aircraft wings – glycol from the helicopter. The other way is install electric heaters in the blades, but that turns them into even bigger consumers of electricity at peak demand.

Reply to  Paul C
December 24, 2020 12:48 pm

Built in heaters would also make the blades heavier and more expensive.
The operators would also have to turn on the heaters as soon as icing becomes likely. If they wait until after ice starts to form, then when the ice does start to melt it will be flung off the blades at high speed. Also if the ice doesn’t come off the blades evenly, there is the potential to unbalance the blades, which could seriously damage the bearings.

Reply to  Paul C
December 24, 2020 2:26 pm

Electric helicopters? That sounds cool.

Willem post
Reply to  Paul C
December 25, 2020 5:12 am

Germany and Denmark have severe icing conditions.

It is usually dealt with using fans that blow electrically heated air into the hollow blades.

Blades would throw large chunks of ice many hundreds of yards.

Rod Evans
December 24, 2020 10:15 am

Let’s look on the bright side, all that cold weather will ensure solar panels are delivering high levels of power output this winter. 🙂 I wonder if it takes long to shovel the snow of them?

John the Econ
Reply to  Rod Evans
December 24, 2020 11:46 am

I once had someone ask why they couldn’t just integrate heating elements in solar panels to melt the snow away.

Reply to  John the Econ
December 24, 2020 12:47 pm

Couldn’t the heating elements be run off their Teslas?

(I swear, some of these people are so close to describing the electric power version of perpetual motion, it’s scary)

Reply to  John the Econ
December 25, 2020 11:31 am

Wasn’t that one of the selling points that the kooky couple from Idaho were touting when publicizing those solar road tiles a few years ago? They claimed the tiles could generate power and melt snow/ice simultaneously. They also claimed the passive generation of electricity from paving every road on earth with their tiles would serve the entire energy needs of the planet.

Reply to  John the Econ
December 25, 2020 2:58 pm

And also, they do not have heating elements for the blades of the windmills? Are they daft?

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  John the Econ
December 25, 2020 7:55 pm

Then, with advances in heating element technology, they could boil water to run a steam turbine for even more power.

December 24, 2020 10:24 am

Solar panels don’t work well when they are covered by ice either.
Nor do they work well when covered by dust, pollen, bird poo …

Reply to  MarkW
December 25, 2020 7:40 am

Don’t have a handy photo, but the 18 panels on our roof must have some magic surface. The only time they quit producing is when they are covered with 6 inches of snow.
I believe they are faced with a silicon plastic that simply doesn’t collect dust.
They d**mn well should. They cost enough 15 years ago. The output has only deteriorated slightly.

December 24, 2020 10:44 am

Some might wonder why they don’t let them spin, with ice on them. The blade tip speed on a wind turbine can top 150 mph (=220 fps =67m/s =241 kph), so with ice buildup they have the potential to become gigantic spinning trebuchets. A large projectile launched at a 45° angle at 150 mph would travel nearly 3/10 of a mile.

Reply to  Dave Burton
December 24, 2020 11:22 am

The ice on them will also unbalance the blades. That can tear a turbine apart real fast.

Reply to  MarkW
December 24, 2020 11:48 am

So first a several hundred pound slab of ice is launched a quarter of a mile and then the turbine blows apart. Cool! Would make a great video!

Steven Miller
Reply to  Dave Burton
December 24, 2020 12:02 pm

The ice would not break clear of all blades at the same time. The imbalance could then shake the entire turbine assembly to pieces

Reply to  Steven Miller
December 24, 2020 1:16 pm

I don’t believe it; I want to see that.

Robert MacLellan
Reply to  Steven Miller
December 24, 2020 2:05 pm

Likely the imbalance and vibration would quickly clear most of the rest. No idea how the periodic imbalances would shorten the life of the mechanicals due to stress.
On the other hand I have seen lots of damage to trees near wind farms here in Nova Scotia. Visualize the Argonne Forest after an artillery barrage during the war.

Reply to  Robert MacLellan
December 24, 2020 4:08 pm

Now that is interesting! Next time please take some photos, and share them with us, Robert!

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Robert MacLellan
December 24, 2020 6:16 pm

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licenses commercial space launch and reentry – I was Chief Engineer in that office for 10 years. One of the legion hurdles a launch license had to clear was “proving” that the expectation of casualties (Ec) of his launch was less than or equal to 1E-4. The term “expectation” is from statistics; it is the average of computed casualties from a large number of simulated failures. Calculating the Ec for a wind turbine would involve similar techniques. I can state with great confidence that if the FAA’s criterion for Ec was applied to permitting a wind turbine on land, in the United States, there wouldn’t be a single wind turbine in operation. I’ve read some of the siting studies for wind turbines, and their calculations of “blade throw” probability and consequence. Space launch risk is vanishingly small by comparison.

Ron Long
December 24, 2020 10:46 am

Good catch from Reuters, Eric. Here’s the comment that is a reality check for me: “…raising doubts about the reliability of cleaner sources to power the world’s second largest economy during critical periods.” But for the world’s actual largest economy this somehow isn’t an alarm signal? Hello, Presumptive President Elect Joe Biden, who says that climate change is an existential threat and will be at the center of his administrations agenda! This kind of statement suggests Joe’s elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.

Richard (the cynical one)
Reply to  Ron Long
December 24, 2020 12:16 pm

And with the next ice age getting inexorably closer, the world’s other economies (ones that now sporadically utilize wind power) will be powerlessly looking at their wind turbines frozen in time. Oh how we will laugh at the irony as we starve and freeze!

Reply to  Ron Long
December 24, 2020 12:55 pm

Ron, Joe and his crew’s political balancing act is to keep the big scary threat going, so as to suck mega $$$s off the taxpayers, but not so much that the plebs get so scared that they give up hope that Joe can rescue the situation.

See, Obama was mightily relieved that his term finished before the plebs came to realize that the planet didn’t actually begin to heal, nor the seas stopped rising.

Reply to  Ron Long
December 24, 2020 7:15 pm

I hope you don’t actually think “confused at best” Joe is actually in charge of the narrative. he hasn’t had an original thought in years, if ever. He’s the front man. Can’t even e coherent unless he reads from a script. Get real.

December 24, 2020 10:51 am

What? No deicing boots?

Peter W
December 24, 2020 10:56 am

Ice and snow covered solar panels don’t work all that well, either.

Bro. Steve
December 24, 2020 10:58 am

Where’s global warming when you need it?

Barnes Moore
December 24, 2020 11:02 am

Except that, according to this article, China is not really cutting it’s reliance on coal.

China’s Green NGO Climate Propaganda Enablers | RealClearEnergy

Richard Burkel
Reply to  Barnes Moore
December 24, 2020 11:19 am

Ah, but this was published within China so Reuters has to toe the line

Bruce Cobb
December 24, 2020 11:16 am

Yeah, yeah, excuses excuses. Next they’ll be complaining about “lack of wind” or “too windy”, etc. etc. Sheesh. You’d think that they don’t even believe there’s a climatic planetary emergency. They need to get with the program.

December 24, 2020 11:31 am

I saw a nuclear plant covered with ice and snow last winter and it was running smoothly and quietly. ; )

Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 11:35 am

I think China may be anticipating international sanctions if they invade Taiwan and re-unify it by military force. With dementia-ridden Beijing Joe and the grifter Biden Family coming to the WH on January 20th, President Xi and the PLA know they have a 3-month or so window to take Taiwan while the new US administration is trying to get its bearing on foreign policy and military control.

So to that end, they need the domestic coal producers to get up to speed on production because coal and energy imports and port operations may come to crawl or stop while the fighting rages in the Taiwan straight and maybe even South China Sea.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 11:48 am

Tibetan… Taiwanese lives don’t matter. Neither do the Uyghurs. Let alone the babies. It’s almost as if progressives, liberals, Humpty Dumpties and similar ideologues are Pro-Choice.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 11:52 am

“China has started trials for a second amphibious assault ship with a third already under construction, according to reports. The Type 075 vehicle first launched in April, but starting sea trials is a major step in its development.
In addition to the two ships in trials, China has a third ship under construction that is expected to be delivered in early 2021.
The People’s Liberation Army has ordered a total of eight Type 075 ships. The first ship was assigned to the South Sea Fleet in August, with the trial lasting 19 days.”

So Amphibious-assualt ship #2 will finish its trials by mid-January, if it follows the pattern of the 1st one. And then a 3rd assault ship delivered in late January, ready by late February. Taiwan’s Air Force better accelerate its operational F-16/SLAM-ER capability if it wants to counter the PLA-Navy next year.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 12:57 pm

Taiwan had better start stocking up on spare parts and anything else they need of a military nature. Democrat administrations aren’t big on selling military equipment to our allies. Biden/Harris gives every early indication of being worse than the Democrat average.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 12:53 pm

What do you mean by a 3 month window. Are you imagining that Biden or Harris would do anything about China invading Taiwan? At any point during their administration?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  MarkW
December 25, 2020 4:45 pm

Beijing has to make calculations. It is all about perceptions and deterrence.

Dementia Joe has this idea of 100 Days of Cimate initiatives and an Apology Campaign, an apology for 4 years of Trump to the international community for Trump telling them to Go To Hell on the Climate Scam.

Analyzing past-US Administration transitions, President Xi and his Generals/Admirals understand they have about 90-100 days of a new admin/DoD just trying to figure-out where their offices are located and who works for them and their secretary’s name This is to their advantage when time is of the essence and the new Admin doesn’t know who they report to yet.

Gerard Flood
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2020 2:23 pm

“… if they invade Taiwan and re-unify it by military force.” “re-unify”??? Taiwan has never ever been a part of China. Not even Mao made any such outlandish claim. Only the aggressive imperialist Xi has tried to make this utterly novel claim.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gerard Flood
December 25, 2020 2:44 pm

I think even Japan has a claim to Taiwan.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 24, 2020 11:21 pm

I think China is more likely to invade India”

If Chinese leaders watch any India Train videos on Youtube, they will definitely not invade.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 25, 2020 4:25 am

they want control of the headland water supplies
and the proposals for weather engineering to create rains over the dry inland areas and nth of china are being openly talked about now
so if they manage to do so,
the global follow on from that will affects usa i think
the ocean currents go eastwards , a la fuku debris landing in usa coastlines assuming clouds n water follow similarly?
correct me if im wrong

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 25, 2020 4:47 pm

The last thing Beijing wants to do is invade a nuclear-capable India.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 25, 2020 7:49 am

I’d like to see the Navy forward deploy a couple of carriers about 200 miles off shore near Taiwan. They could rotate carriers in place as training exercises along with a few nuclear subs.

Reply to  Philo
December 25, 2020 6:48 pm

Which Navy? The Chinese Navy or the Taiwanese Navy?

December 24, 2020 11:41 am

“… Beijing’s drive to cut businesses’ power usage and their reliance on polluting coal-fired energy.”
Say what??? What drive to cut reliance on coal fired energy? They’re building hundreds of new coal plants, they aren’t that stupid.

Reply to  Art
December 24, 2020 12:30 pm

Add to the features of China coal use is that when they cut purchasing Australian coal in 2020 they sourced coal from elsewhere. The different coal China now imports more of in 2020 burns dirtier than the previously used Australian coal.

Peter W
December 24, 2020 12:21 pm

The obvious basic problem here is that we have not had enough global warming yet, otherwise we would not be having all of these problems with ice and snow. Think of the resulting deaths from accidents on ice and snow covered roads, the man who almost died after being trapped in his snow-covered car, the expense and fuel required for all the snow clearing, the damage to all the roads and highways! Now, if we had a decent amount of global warming we wouldn’t have all these problems and expenses. And, of course, there were those record-setting low temperatures this past fall. Foolish to complain about global warming with stuff like that!

Robert of Texas
December 24, 2020 12:36 pm

They need to add diesel generators to each windmill to produce electricity to heat the blades. While they are at it, they could build huge diesel fans that keep the wind turbines turning to produce all that green energy.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
December 27, 2020 1:02 pm

This idea, like it, I do.

Flight Level
December 24, 2020 2:45 pm

Make them 30’000 feet high, well above the weather, Have a redundant twin gas turbine powered antiicing system ready in case these nasty convective clouds show and their desperate for social contacts ice particles decide to linger.

Flight Level
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 24, 2020 5:35 pm

This was actually tried at a smaller scale in Italy. Guess it didn’t work as expected before subsides were depleted, never heard of ever since.

Quite a nightmare considering all that can go wrong.

Right-Handed Shark
December 24, 2020 2:46 pm

No doubt griff will be along shortly to explain that this is the missing ice from the Arctic and a plausible reason how it was transported to China by CO2. Because this has to be our fault, somehow.

Reply to  Right-Handed Shark
December 25, 2020 7:56 am

Hah! It is our fault. The secret is out! We’ve been preparing for weather wars for years. (sarc)

December 24, 2020 3:08 pm

Several years ago China banned most wind turbine builds and has been pushing heavily on nuclear. They have lots of nuclear planned for the future and are developing molten salt nuclear, which is the future of emission-free power

Reply to  ColMosby
December 24, 2020 3:32 pm

Why don’t we wait until somebody, somewhere finally manages to build one of these things before declaring them the future of power?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  MarkW
December 24, 2020 11:06 pm

Come on now, Mark, yer bustin’ the Colonel’s fantasy bubble.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Graemethecat
December 25, 2020 10:11 am

That wasn’t the dispute. The dispute was about MSR. The Wiki you linked to only says this about MSR:

In January 2011, the Chinese Academy of Sciences began the TMSR research and development project to create reactors which, among other advances, will be air-cooled. A small prototype reactor of this type is planned for 2020.[64] It will be sited in Gansu province,[65] in an industrial park in Minqin County.[66]

Reply to  ColMosby
December 25, 2020 8:03 am

If a water-cooled fission reactor can be successfully run past the end of its design life a fail-safe molten salt reactor should be a piece of cake. If nothing else the fact that they run under very limited pressure(some pumping losses) makes them infinitely safer. As far as I’ve read all the proposed designs are walk-away safe- turn everything off and wait for it to cool down for trouble shooting.

December 24, 2020 3:29 pm

“China’s efforts to retire coal”?? Is that why China has construction 60 GW of new coal fired generation plants over the last year.?

December 24, 2020 6:49 pm

Wind turbines are a Green energy choice that is a forward-looking blight on the environment, a deadly gauntlet for birds, bats, and other endangered creatures, and an energy conversion technology that cannot be reasonably, sustainably isolated from the environment.

As for the Chinese third party solution, out of sight and out of mind with a progressive price. Not quite a wicked solution, but evolving on a monthly, yearly, and decadal basis.

December 24, 2020 7:07 pm
Reply to  fred250
December 24, 2020 7:09 pm

FOSSIL FUEL to the rescue.. AS ALWAYS

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  fred250
December 24, 2020 11:20 pm

De plane!

Jeff Alberts
December 24, 2020 11:23 pm

So, the secret to making wind and solar viable, is to control the weather. Then they can finally reduce CO2 so they can …. control the weather.

Stuart Nachman
December 25, 2020 5:52 am

China only consumes 4% of our hydrocarbon exports. Maybe they should buy more, as we have plenty to sell.

December 25, 2020 6:40 am

I live in the wind farms of northern Oregon, and here we get nasty winter weather, but also a drastic drop in winds. Spring-fall the wind rips through here aggressively, 35 mph steady with gusts to 50 are an average Tuesday. But winter sees very little wind due to extreme cold. So our towers aren’t producing as much right now.
Icing is not something we hear about, and as many of our local roads take us within “trebuchet range” of a tower, we’d have heard about such dangers long ago. Incidentally, every time I’ve gone under a tower, standing at its base, there have been zero dead birds– I always look because it’s claimed they’re “bird death machines”.
One thing to note is that far too often those thousands of towers are sitting idle, not spinning due to lack of wind or lack of demand. That’s why they are doing the “pumped storage”, not because it’s such a great idea, but because they’ve realized the things are in reality pointless and are desperate to prove they should continue to exist.
We know they’re a scam, a sham, and are falling apart as fast as they’re being built. The only reason the landowners here even allowed the wind farms is that the property owner who allows a tower on their land gets compensated about $5,000 a year. Many locals whose land has “good” wind have been able to quit farming wheat and retire on their 20-wind-tower $100K per year.
Sorry so long but lots to say.

December 25, 2020 7:46 am

Honestly now; who really thinks China has any intention whatsoever of reducing their use of coal fired electric generating facilities (unless replaced by nuclear or hydro/pumped storage facilities).
The Chinese are not stupid and they always look out for Number 1; themselves.

They may talk the talk, but in regards to the global warming scam, they sure as hell will not be walking the walk.
They are not suicidal (unlike Australia, Europe and the Biden USA).
The Chinese (and Russians) are probably besides themselves with disbelief as they watch advanced industrial nations commit energy suicide.

If the Chinese need to import foreign coal they will.

December 25, 2020 6:50 pm

What are the Chinese doing having ice in the first place. It’s supposed to be hot everywhere from globular warming.

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