Technological capability of the Chinese wind turbine industry: An international comparative study

Rui Hu, of Imperial College London, UK, conducted an international comparative study to examine China’s wind energy knowledge and technology accumulation, showing that China is making rapid progress.

Rui Hu

Rui Hu


Technological innovations are vital if we are to move to a sustainable energy system. Driven by the concerns of climate change and energy security, energy RD&D investment by the world’s major economies has increased again after decades of stagnation and decline, and incentives to stimulate clean energy technology investments have also triggered significant increases in private sector investments into renewable energy. Given this growth in spending on energy technology innovations, the present research attempted to develop a set of quantitative innovation metrics derived from the Energy Technology Innovation System (ETIS) approach in order to evaluate how effectively a nation’s ETIS has operated over time. The wind turbine industries in China, Denmark, and the USA were used as an example of a supply-side energy technology to understand the status and growth dynamics of wind energy knowledge and technology through cross-country comparisons.


Drawing upon the innovation systems (IS) approach as well as existing work on innovation metrics, approximately 35 quantitative indicators grouped as inputs, outputs, and outcomes were identified as being the most important for a well-functioning ETIS. The associated data were collected from multiple official statistical agencies (e.g., OECD, IEA, UN) to quantify the values of indicators by means of descriptive statistics. For some of these indicators, scaling analysis and scenarios projections at unit level were performed using the Logistic Substitution Mode II model developed at IIASA.


At the present stage, Denmark leads in almost all value chains of developing, manufacturing, and exporting large wind turbines. China lags behind the USA and Denmark in wind energy knowledge and technology accumulation. However, the production capability of Chinese wind turbine manufacturers has grown rapidly and enormously. China has already surpassed the USA in manufacturing larger wind turbines, and the time lag between China and Denmark in installing (manufacturing) wind turbines, measured by the unit capacity frontier, is increasingly shortening.


Adequate innovation metrics are crucial to characterize the functioning of ETISs. The multi-dimensional indicator framework developed enables the evolution of national innovation and technological capabilities to be analyzed, and these were tested with a case study on wind turbines. The results suggest a rapidly growing technological capability and the closing of innovation gaps on the part of leading countries with respect to China’s wind turbine industry.


Arnulf Grubler, Transitions to New Technologies Program, IIASA


Rui Hu, of Imperial College London, UK, is a citizen of China. He was self-funded and worked in the Transitions to New Technologies Program during the YSSP.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 03 February 2016


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