A Green Clean China?

Pu Shi, loooking out onto Pu Dong - Shanghai, China 2007

China has seen massive economic and technological growth in the last few decades, resulting in the billion inhabitants increasing the country’s energy demand by 15% a year.  As President Obama alerted the US in the State of the Union address last week, China has entered the race for renewable energy and is vying for first place.  In fact, China is currently spending 10 times as much on renewable energy than the US (based on a percentage of the GDP).   China also plans to supply 15% of its energy by renewable resources by 2020.  Despite the competitive race to be world leader in green energy, the US has teamed up with China on certain initiatives.  In November 2009, the US and China announced several joint programs to stimulate research and development of green technology including hybrid electric cars, clean coal processes, and improving the efficiency of industrial buildings [DOE].

Strong evidence points to China succeeding in the world race for clean energy.  In 2009, China was the largest wind turbine and solar panel manufacturer in the world.  Also, the country’s wind energy capacity has doubled for each of the past four years.  As extra incentive for renewable energy entrepreneurs, state banks are offering loans with interest as low at 2%.  Moreover, China has already invested $45 billion dollars to improving the electric grid in 2009.

Back streets of Pu Shi in Shanghai, China 2007

From these new policies and promises, it appears China will be the world leader in Green Energy in the very near future.  Though things aren’t always what they seem.  Yes, China has doubled its wind energy capacity every year for the past four years.  However, almost a third of the wind generation plants are not yet connected to the grid.  By law, state grid companies must purchase all power generated by renewable energy sources [China Environmental Law].  Historically this law has not been strictly enforced as grid upgrades are costly and the 0.4% renewable energy fee attached to each electricity bill is insufficient to cover these costs.   Also, China includes both hydro-electric and nuclear power in the “renewable energy” category.  An increase to 15% renewable energy by 2020 becomes highly comparable to the US level of 15.2% (renewable and nuclear energy) reported in 2007 [Annual Energy Review 2007].

So the question lies: Is China on track to be the world leader in Green Energy?  Can the West, with our well established energy markets, be able to keep up?


Annual Energy Review – Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2007, Tables 1.3, 2.1b-2.1f and 10.3

China Environmental Law – http://www.chinaenvironmentallaw.com/2009/12/28/chinas-renewable-energy-law-amendments/

DOE – http://www.energy.gov/news2009/8292.htm

Business Green – http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2243176/china-set-roll-440bn-green

New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/business/energy-environment/31renew.html

Yale Environment 360 – http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2180



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4 responses to “A Green Clean China?

  1. That’s the billion dollar question, right? Maybe trillion?

  2. mhapsari

    China’s quest into clean energy is only a reasonable move after its aggressive ventures towards securing future supplies of conventional energy, such as oil and coal. With a double digit growth and almost 20% of global population, China is facing possibly the greatest risks of energy shortages. Moreover, as a developing nation, its per-capita consumption is still well bellow the developed nations.

    To answer the billion dollar question, I would say yes. First, China has the motivation, capital and resources to be the leader in clean energy. But most importantly, its government structure with a single party country, China doesn’t have to deal with the unnecessary political frictions to develop a policy or launch a major project. China’s State Council recently announced the creation of the National Energy Commission (NEC), with the stated purpose of strengthening decision-making and coordinating energy strategy and headed by the Premier himself. So let’s see where all of these are going…

  3. constanceanne

    They certainly have the potential to be a leader in green energy. It would make sense with their energy use growth, given global concerns about conventional fuel use and supplies. I know that China is one of the only countries looking at pursuing offshore wind power outside of Europe. (The US is too, but we haven’t built anything yet.)

  4. mkbloger

    As someone who grew up in China, I agree with the last comment!

    The Chinese government owns all major business and public infrastructure, so they can easily make changes in all aspects of the energy industry, from power plants to the utility companies and to the transportation usages. Even though many major cities in China are already heavily polluted, the government is so powerful that the whole country will follow one direction in the drop of a hat.

    Another big advantage China has in this race is the way people live. With the huge population and the growing manufacturing sites, China still consumed less energy than the US historically (1). The majority of the people in China ride bike and use public transportation, even more people live in apartments that consumes much less energy than houses, and the traditional Chinese diet is very seasonal and local. It will be a huge challenge for the US to catch up on these 3 areas. Transportation, residential buildings and the food industry are the 3 biggest energy consumers and carbon emitters in the US.

    So, I think the answer to the billion dollar question is also the answer to: ” Will the people here be able to change the way they commute, live and eat?”


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