Top in investment, installed capacity and generation, and
moving away from fossil fuels; in contrast to the USA Dr Mae-Wan
Overtakes US in investment
For the second year, the annual Pew Charitable Trusts report,
“Who’s winning the clean energy race?” shows China leads in clean energy
investment with $54 billion in 2013, well above total US investment of $ 36.7
bn, with Japan in third place at 28.6 bn, and UK a distant fourth at $12.4 bn
. But globally investment has been declining for two straight years.
Investment totalled $254 bn, a drop of 11 % from 2012, and 20 % from 2011 when
investments peaked at $318 bn.
China installed 14 GW electricity generation
capacity from wind and 12 GW from solar in 2013, the US installed less than 1
GW wind power after a tax incentive for wind expired, but installed a record
4.3 GW solar generation capacity.
Another important finding is that for the
first time, solar power installations eclipsed wind farm construction globally
in 2013. One-third of all solar power on the planet was installed during the
year, according to Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s clean energy program.
But much more is afoot in China.
In late 2012, the then president of China Hu Jintao called
for a “revolution in energy production and consumption.” In May 2014, the
country’s top economic planning agency showed what this means in practice: a
massive expansion in domestic renewable energy from wind, sun and water. In
2013 alone, China installed as much new wind power as the rest of the world
combined, and as much solar PV as the US over the entire past decade. New
targets will dwarf these achievements in the next few years. By 2017, China
plans to have doubled its wind capacity from 78 GW to 150 GW, and more than
tripled its solar PV capacity from 20 GW to 70 GW. In other words, over the
next three years, China will build 6 times the UK’s entire current capacity of
wind turbines .
There are also signs that China is beginning
to wean itself from coal, which currently generates 3 quarters of the country’s
electricity. As of the beginning of 2014, a growing number of Chinese provinces
had introduced caps on coal use.
Will it be mega projects rather than a
participatory approach? Given its past record, China may well go for more
megaprojects. But there is increasing awareness that smaller scale
decentralized forms of generation are just as important.
Over the past 2 years, Chinese policy makers
have introduced changes designed to kickstart a widespread deployment of
decentralized solar power and let people generate their own power. An action
plan from the State Grid Corporation and new government rules mean that distributed
solar installations less than 6 MW could connect to the grid at no extra cost.
And new targets have been set for up to 50 % China’s total solar power to come
from small-scale projects by 2015. In addition, the Government has established
fixed payments for the energy generated and announced it would encourage low cost
financing to assist uptake. Indications are that these measures are working.
An estimated 3 GW small scale
solar PV was installed in 2013, and 8 GW more expected in 2014, the equivalent
of 32 million standard solar panels like those found on hundreds of thousands
of British homes. At that rate, China will soon overtake Germany for solar
A report China’s Future
Generation, launched at the Wilson Center 19 February produced by the World
Wildlife Fund and Energy Transition Research Institute, forecasts that China
could reach 80 % renewable electricity by 2050 at far less cost than continuing
to rely on coal, provided the country opts for a high energy efficiency, high
renewables future scenario .
2013 an inflection point for renewables over fossil fuels
and nuclear, not so for the US
According to a detailed analysis coauthored by John Mathews
at Macquarie University Sydney and Hao Tan at University of Newcastle in
Australia , the year 2013 marks “an important inflection point where the scales
tipped more towards electric power generated from water, wind and solar than
from fossil fuels and nuclear.”
China added a total of 94 GW generation
capacity in 2013, of which 55.3 GW came from renewable WWS sources (Water,
Wind, Solar) and 36.5 GW from thermal (mostly coal) sources; China also added
2.2 GW from nuclear sources.Thus just under 60 % of China’s newly added
capacity came from renewable sources, while 40% came from non-renewable fossil
fuels or nuclear.
China is known widely as the world’s
largest user and producer of coal, and the world’s largest emitter of
greenhouse gases. But it is also building the world’s largest renewable energy
system – which by 2013 stood at over 1 trillion kilowatt-hours – already nearly
as big as the combined total electrical energy produced by France and Germany.
Both the US and China now have
electric power systems rated at just over 1 trillion watts, with China slightly
ahead at 1.25 TW compared with the US at 1.16 TW. China is now the most
electrically powered nation on the planet, while per capita power consumption
remains four times higher in the US.
While coal for thermal power
continues to rise, the overall consumption of coal appears to be ‘capped’ at 3 500
million tonnes, a desperate measure in response to the blackening skies and
poisoned water and air.
The sharp turn to renewables
increase can be located accurately at around 2005-06. In the space of eight
years, China has become the world’s most important generator of wind power,
with the world’s largest capacity and the largest addition of new power
capacity in the year 2013. Close to 30% of electrical energy is now generated
from renewable sources. The target of 30% renewables in the electric power
system was set for 2015 as part of the 12thFive Year Plan; it has been
reached three years ahead of time.
By contrast, the US is getting into
deeper dependence on fossil fuels, in particular coal seam gas from horizontal
drilling and fracking. The US added only 16 GW in 2013, with natural gas the
main contributor at 7.3 GW. All told, the US added 8.8 GW (55%) from
thermal/fossil fuels and 5.9 GW from renewable sources (under 37%). The main
trend in the US is clearly towards coal seam gas and fossil fuels rather than
are “smart business strategy”
immediate motivation for China’s dash for renewables is the smog-blackened
skies and heavily polluted water resources. In the medium term, renewables
offer energy security over fossil fuels supply, particularly from imports. And
renewables could also serve as the foundation for export industries. In its 12th
five-year plan covering 2011 to 2015, low carbon and cleantech industries were
placed at the core of its growth strategy. So the main motivation for China’s
shift towards renewables is that renewables offer a means of expanding energy
supplies based on expansion of manufacturing activities and supply chains for
renewables (in solar panels and wind turbines, for example), rather
than on  “expanding extractive industries for fossil fuels around the world
and securing them with military force.”
“The renewables option is consistent
with a smart business strategy for creating both jobs and export platforms for
green products as the core of China’s future development strategy.” Mathews and
Tan concluded .
“Report: China could generate 80 percent of its energy
from renewables by 2050 for less than cost of coal”, Xiupei Liang,
NewSecurity Beat, 26 March 2014,
Todd Millions Comment left 31st July 2014 15:03:08 An excellent summary-thanx. A both sides comparision of the new dispersed renewable feed in policies of China to the German FITS program, Brussels is so determined to gut(with help from Berlin) would be most instructive. I would suggest that development of solar/wind small high efficiency alliance optimised 'Packages', would be a large niche export market for China to develop, and test. Perhaps The capital required could come from the nuclear power program?