A Research Afterthought, Moving Forward

I really enjoyed my research project this summer and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct both domestic and international research on my topic. Big thanks to the Charles Center and to everyone who supports the Charles Center.

Yesterday I returned from  trip to western China during which I traveled through Xinjiang, Gansu and Qinghai. Now that fall has arrived, I am going to leave off with an afterthought on my research.

First, this summer has fortified the notion that experience is second to none when it comes to reinforcing knowledge. My research schedule was designed so that I would spend the first half of the summer reading, and the second half examining the real world with the information and concepts that I had come to obtain and understand.

One example: I had read that China was estimated to have around 250,000 MW of wind power potential, not including offshore power. But sitting in Swem, how can I visualize and understand how much potential this actually is? Sure, one can make comparisons to other energy sources for relative estimates. But this is still somewhat abstract. Sometimes we need a shock to our system to wake us up and make us see things more clearly. Last week I was taking an overnight bus from Urumqi to Dunhuang, and I got the shock that I needed. As we entered a vast desert valley, I looked out the right side window and my eyes lit up. Off in the distance stood hundreds of wind turbines ranging from 500mW to 1000mW in size. As I spoke with a friend on the bus who often commutes from Gansu to Xinjiang, he told me that this particular wind farm was 25 kilometers long. On average, a wind turbine with somewhere between 500mW and 1000mW of electricity generation costs anywhere from $3 million to $6 million, depending on a variety of factors. There were hundreds, thousands of turbines in this valley, and this farm is considered relatively small to one located in nearby Dabanchang. My friend notioned for me to look to the left, and after doing so I realized that the land beyond the left side of the road was completely barren. He held up 2 fingers and told me that in two years time, the left side of the valley is going to look exactly like the right side.

This summer has been a productive few months for me. While I am now gearing myself towards Mandarin, I am too interested in both China’s energy security quest and its effects on the U.S. and international relations to stop my research. Western wind power development is a small but important piece of China’s energy security puzzle and I am fascinated by it even more after having traveled to the areas with the greatest wind power development potential.

Until Next Time,

Austin