Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Is China innovating in renewables?

By Hubert Schmitz

Last month I visited the trade fair for the wind power industry in Copenhagen. I was particularly interested in finding out how much progress Chinese companies had made. It is well known that China is now a major producer of wind turbines (see, for example, Competition and Cooperation between Europe and China in the Wind Power Sector). It is not clear whether they are also innovating.

I found indications that the Chinese enterprises are innovating. And they are doing it in interesting ways – by using international innovation networks. The most interesting example is a Chinese company setting up its innovation centre in Denmark’s wind power cluster. This innovation centre has hired some of the best Danish engineers who - jointly with their Chinese colleagues – have developed a dual-blade wind turbine. This is a new type of off-shore wind turbine to be launched soon. The promise is that it is highly effective but is less complex, has fewer components, is easier to install off-shore, and is cheaper than competitors. It remains to be seen whether it works as well as the company claims once there is a full wind farm - with these two-blade turbines – in operation.

In the mean time, we can take stock of rapid changes made by the rising powers in the global innovation business.
  1. It is only a few years ago that we were asking whether countries like China and India were managing the break-through from production to innovation.
  2. Now we can say that there is a shift in innovation power, for example in the software and auto industries.
  3. The example above indicates that is also beginning to happen in low-carbon technology.
 What next!!??