China Goes on Clean Green Energy Blitz

April 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

In the past week, China’s English language press–China Daily, Xinhua, Caixin, Global Times–has seen an explosion of articles highlighting China’s plans to move ahead in the development of clean, renewable energy.  Here is a small sampling of headlines, with the lead paragraph or two of the articles:

1. New energy industries to fuel China’s green growth (Xinhua) April 9 — With China’s ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions for a greener economy during the 12th five-year plan period from 2011 to 2015, new energy industries are becoming even more significant than in the past. These industries will be responsible for serving the country’s growing appetite for energy to feed its rapid development.

2. China Said to Mull Drastic Solar Power Increase (Caixin) April 12 — China may significantly raise its target for installed capacity for solar power generation over the next decade as the country steps up efforts to tap alternative energy.

China Solar Energy Association plans to present a proposal to the State Council, China’s cabinet, to lift installed photovoltaic capacity to 15 gigawatts and 50 gigawatts by 2015 and 2020 respectively, from the currently planned 5 gigawatts and 20 gigawatts, an industry insider told Caixin.

3. Pledge for more hydropower by 2015 (Global Times) April 11 — China will put more hydropower into use over the next five years, in an effort to transform the country’s energy consumption model, according to the Bureau of Energy under the National Development and Reform Commission.

By the end of 2015, China will have begun work on projects providing an extra 120 megawatts in hydropower capacity.

4. State Grid to Boost Wind Power Delivery Capacity (Caixin) April 15 — State Grid Corp. of China plans to lift its on-grid capacity to more than 90 million kilowatts by 2015, under a new target to reach over 150 million kilowatts by 2020.

5. Inner Mongolia becomes China’s first region with 10GW grid-access wind power capacity (Xinhua) April 10 — Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China has become the country’s first province-level region to have over 10GW of wind turbines installed and connected to the power grid.

This makes up about one third of China’s total grid-access wind installed capacity, according to figures from the autonomous regional government.

With this media barrage the Beijing leadership is underscoring for the public that its campaign to promote alternative forms of energy is real. Just-released figures from March 2011 appear to have prompted the blitz and intensified Beijing’s renewable energy efforts: the nation’s energy consumption increased more than 13% over the same month last year, alarming a government that has made reduction of energy intensity and carbon emissions the centerpiece of its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).

Wind power, solar power, water power and nuclear power–the development of which is currently on hold in China–are the country’s most promising alternatives to the coal that now keeps it running (70%-80% of its electricity is coal generated) but at the same time has made China the world’s leading emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases.  Cleaner sources of energy are essential, so Beijing believes. And, because cleaner energy serves only if it can be transferred from where it’s produced to where it’s needed, the government is doing all that it can to promote and expand the country’s power grid.

No one, however, should conclude that China’s aggressive development of renewable energy and green technology is simply about meeting China’s domestic energy needs or cleaning China’s own air and water.  Look at the 12th Five-Year Plan:  Beijing leaders now see green energy—wind and solar power, in particular—as key to building a more sophisticated, high-tech, export economy.  No more blue jeans, no more cheap throw-away cigarette lighters—no more “workshop of the world” low-tech economy.  The Chinese seek global leadership in the 21st century in the nurturing and trade of clean energy technology.

Americans who aren’t moved to support investment in green energy and technology by the argument that fossil fuels cannot be sustained indefinitely—and may slowly be killing us—perhaps can, and should, be moved by a baser, less scientific one.  To paraphrase President Clinton, “It’s about economic competitiveness, stupid!”

That was U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s message—put more subtly and gracefully–in his speech to the National Press Club in November 2010.  I recommend you read it (here).

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§ 2 Responses to China Goes on Clean Green Energy Blitz

  • I’m not convinced it’s about economic competitiveness that China’s going green, it’s more about the citizen’s need to breathe. Watch the Shanghai Grand Prix and one of the things you notice is how hard it is to see a car more than 100 metres away, because the air quality is simply that bad.

    There’s no point in having 1.3 billion people if they all die of emphesyma before they hit 20.

    • Nick,

      I agree. China is going green principally because Beijing knows full well that fossil fuels, especially coal, have done serious damage to the environment and contributed mightily to climate change. But the leadership believes too that there is an economic benefit to developing green technology. Article 13 of the Guidelines to the 12th Five-Year Plan states that China’s investment in “energy-saving” technologies, “new energy” technologies, and “alternative-energy vehicles” will give the country “a comparative advantage in the global economy.”

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