As United States looks to coal, China invests in renewable energy

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At least one country is rising to the occasion.

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HUAIBEI, CHINA - APRIL 24: Workers install solar panels at a solar power station on April 24, 2018 in Huaibei, China. China's electricity consumption rose 9.8 percent year-on-year to 1.6 trillion kilowatt hours in the first quarter of 2018, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA) Tuesday. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
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ThinkProgress

HUAIBEI, CHINA – APRIL 24: Workers install solar panels at a solar power station on April 24, 2018 in Huaibei, China. China’s electricity consumption rose 9.8 percent year-on-year to 1.6 trillion kilowatt hours in the first quarter of 2018, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA) Tuesday. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

As the United States works to revitalize coal and other fossil fuel industries, China is reaffirming its efforts towards renewable energy, investing considerable resources in expanding solar power and clearing hurdles for businesses to shift towards sustainable energy options.

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced on Thursday that the country would “ease the burden” on renewable power generators, ordering local governments to give priority access and to “promptly accept” such companies.

Guaranteed purchase agreements must also be fortified and local governments failing to meet the standards laid out by the NEA will face repercussions.

That announcement comes only two days after the NEA announced that China installed nearly 10 gigawatts (GW) of new solar photovoltaic capacity in the first quarter of 2018 — a 22 percent increase over the same time period last year.

The country’s endeavors have global implications for consumers. Solar panels are becoming cheaper and cheaper thanks in large part to China, which has oversupplied the market and driven down costs in the process. China is also reportedly eyeing the electric bus market, something that could similarly incentivize investors globally.

China’s efforts stand in stark contrast to those of the United States. President Trump announced that the country would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement last June, arguing that the deal put the United States at a disadvantage while benefiting other countries.

The prospect of a U.S. exit has placed pressure on countries like China to take on new climate leadership roles, with or without U.S. assistance.

Following Trump’s announcement, China reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris agreement’s targets, vowing that the nation would share responsibility in global sustainable development efforts. As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (closely followed by the United States), China’s role in combating climate change is largely seen as critical.

The country seems to be rising to the occasion: Despite ongoing investments in coal, China is also the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, according to a 2018 report from the U.S.-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). That’s in keeping with trends from past years.

China passed the United States in renewable energy investment in 2009 by a mere $14 billion; in the time since, that gap has increased dramatically. In 2017, more than half of global renewable energy investment (nearly $280 billion) came from China. To put that into context, for every $1 the United States put into renewable energy last year, China spent $3.

Much of that investment went into solar power, followed by wind energy. According to Quartz, 26 percent of all national electric production came from renewables, as opposed to the global average of 12 percent.

Developing countries more broadly are proving key to driving investment in renewables. Brazil and India joined China to account for 63 percent of all investment (around $143.5 billion) in renewable energy across the world in 2017.

That’s in stark contrast to Western nations: the United States and Europe account for more than 40 percent of all post-industrial era emissions, but collectively invested only a little over $80 billion in renewable energy in 2017, according to a 2018 U.N. report. China alone invested $126.6 billion.

But China still faces slowing demand for renewable energy domestically, along with rising U.S. trade issues as Trump weighs sweeping tariffs. The White House announced a 30 percent tariff on Chinese solar panels in January in an effort to retaliate against China’s efforts to corner the world market.

And economists have speculated that the industry is likely to take a hit this year. The Beijing-based Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory (AECEA) has projected that the country will install between 40 and 45 GW of solar capacity by the end of the year — down from 53 GW in 2017.

Source: ThinkProgress. Reproduced with permission.

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8 Comments
  1. Joe 7 months ago

    Lets see now, China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and with a population of 1 Billions plus you can see why that would be the case. Do the true comparison on a per capita basis and America is a far worse green house gas emitter.

    • Ian 7 months ago

      China is also to a large proportion – emitting externalised emissions from the rest of the world

      • Joe 7 months ago

        Quite correct, China the western worlds factory as they say, as we / The West outsource a lot of our goods production. We are happy to take the finished product and leave the ’emissions mess’ behind in China.

    • Tom Andrews 7 months ago

      And then you should multiply it by GDP per person.. and then by how long the developed countries have been polluting the air. We have known about greenhouse gases and their issues since at least the 60’s. To harshly judge a country that is making this much effort when most western countries have barely begun to tackle their legacy of pollution would be wrong.

      • Joe 7 months ago

        Agreed. You know when a debate is lost when the finger is pointed elsewhere, anywhere, as long as it is away from your own mess.

      • Ian 7 months ago

        To be fair, Europe and USA are developed areas with electricity generators already built. China is a developing nation and is adding generation capacity at a phenomenal rate. China’s population per land area is much larger than the USA and Europe put together, they are becoming very resource-hungry seeking to draw raw materials to themselves from the entire world. Europe and America are suffering huge population influxes straining their already aging facilities, China is still developing its economy. China has intractable air pollution problems that other nations do not. It also has water shortages in its densely populated north east which are exacerbated by thermal power generators. China has social problems that are tied to GDP growth and requires to have an above average growth rate and increased infrastructure spending. The USA invests less on infrastructure and more on military in its role as world superpower and peace keeper. The USA has very cheap electricity and an abundance of fossil fuels with very powerful vested interests which have unfortunately adversely affected government attitudes to renewables . They do however have a growing groundswell of business and citizen support for renewables and have been at the forefront of the battle against vested interests. They have also provided much of the intellectual foundation to the technology and socioeconomic transformation that China has enjoyed. Europe has in fact worked extremely hard to increase its share of renewables, it does not have vast areas of low population density to install utility scale solar, actually, utility sized solar in Europe competes with other forms of land use such as farming or wilderness . It is at the forefront of offshore wind deployment and has benefitted from reduced costs leading to reductions in spending for the same rate of deployment. Europe has other factors which are country specific, which affect renewable uptake. Germany has wind resources in its North with its industrial base in the South requiring power transmission lines through its populated mid section. France has historically relied on nuclear power for much of its electricity needs. The Mediterranean states have suffered economical decline and in Spain and Denmark state revenues were partly obtained from the price of electricity, limiting rooftop solar deployment. These are all uphill battles that need facing and those countries are facing them in various stages of enthusiasm.

  2. solarguy 7 months ago

    Looking at the photo, it seems the panels are too close together causing shading and consequently a lower output than the array otherwise would have, unless they are using DC optimisers. And if that is the case what a waste of money.

  3. Juvid 6 months ago

    I’m not terribly surprised. America is run by a bunch of sociopaths captured by the fossil fuel industry. Given they have no problems killing millions of people in their numerous wars around the world, why would they care about some mere pollution.

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