The drivers for China’s wind energy technology innovation system

Mr Rui  Hu, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

 Prof Jim Skea, Imperial College London,United Kingdom

 Dr Matthew Hannon, Imperial College London, United Kingdom

China is a latecomer in wind energy, but it has been a quick learner and innovator. Wind power has surpassed nuclear and become China’s third largest source for electricity generation, only after coal and hydro. China now represents largest user of wind power, accounting for over 30% of global wind power capacity. Chinese wind turbine manufacturers are transforming from a technology importer to an innovator, and are closing innovation gaps to leading countries in researching, developing and manufacturing. But what has driven China’s rapid growth in wind technology innovation? And what successful lessons can be drawn from China for other interested countries?


When Freeman (1987) was seeking the causes for Japan’s rise as a major technological power over the post era of WWII, he found that Japan’s success owed to a combination of technological, social and institutional innovation. We observed that the structure of China’s S&T system, the country’s innovation strategies and policies over the past decade are quite similar to those observed by Freeman (1987) and Nelson (1993) in the case of Japan. However, China now faces two new contexts – globalisation of innovation and climate change. These two factors have obviously affected China’s energy investment strategy and the related innovation policies.


The utilisation of modern wind power in China did not start until 1986 when the country’s first grid-connected wind farm was constructed, equipped with three wind turbines imported from Denmark. In 2009, China built the first offshore wind farm in Asia, equipped with 3 MW wind turbines, reaching a total capacity of 100 MW. All these large wind turbines were developed and manufactured by domestic Chinese firms. It is fair to say that China has made a leapfrog in wind technology innovation. But why can China make such a substantial achievement? How have the Chinese stakeholders adapted to new contexts to innovate?


We share the belief that countries do copy each other when they try to learn good practices from others, but they may finally build a different system that proves to be more efficient (Nelson 1993). However, the successful absorption of these ‘new’ practices and their performance depend on the country’s flexibility of institutional arrangements (Freeman 1987). China’s experience in developing wind energy may be such as a case. This will contribute to the debate on how to adapt to new contexts (e.g. globalization of innovation) to best design and implement energy innovation policies.


Technological innovation is systemic in nature. Innovation systems (IS) approach is a useful tool for analysing technological innovation. We have recently constructed a multi-dimensional indicator framework for evaluating the performance of energy technology innovation system (Hu, Skea, and Hannon 2016). Our results show that China is catching-up quickly with pioneers in wind technology innovation. In this paper, we intend to continue this effort to understand the inducement mechanism in China’s wind technology innovation system, i.e. what has steered China’s wind technology innovation engine? Both quantitative (e.g. patent analysis) and qualitative techniques (e.g. case study) will be used to tell a coherent story.

Comments for BIEE Members only.
Sign in or become a member today.

Sign up to our Events Newsletter

To receive email updates about our forthcoming events and news please sign up here.

Sign Up