In June 2017, the world witnessed a feat in the energy industry unlike any other. For an entire week, the five million citizens in the Qinghai Province of north-western China relied entirely on renewable energy. According to state media, the week-long run, organized by China’s State Grid Corporation, illustrated the potential of renewable energy in China as well as the rest of the world.
June’s event is an emblem of the increasing presence of renewable energy in China. The government announced that it plans on spending $360 billion on clean energy investments by 2020. This will offset the detrimental and life-threatening pollution, as well as push forward its economy by creating an estimated 13 million new jobs. Numbers released by Greenpeace suggest that one wind turbine was installed every hour in 2015.
Increasingly, China and renewable energy are becoming more intertwined. As an energy behemoth, China’s mass manufacturing of solar panels made widespread, household renewable energy more of a reality. Responsible for manufacturing four out of five solar modules installed presently, China made solar energy cost-competitive against fossil fuel energy.
Pitting China against other nations, its accomplishments become even more glaring. In 2016 alone, China added 35 gigawatts of solar generation, which is almost equal to Germany’s entire capacity. Meanwhile, solar power in the U.S. is not nearly as productive.
Notably, China is the largest consumer of coal consumption responsible for half of global usage. Since domestic coal miners generate 70 percent of its electricity, the Chinese government has strong incentives to continue developing and investing in renewable energy. Domestically, scientists say that China’s pollution, caused by the mass-use of fossil fuels, accounts for 1.1 million deaths a year. Its pledge to the 2014 Paris climate agreement has also been an international push towards more effectively incorporating renewable energies into its state infrastructure.
Particularly venerable is China’s efforts to develop solar panels and applications for renewable energies that can survive in environmentally diverse urban and rural areas. This will make renewable energy viable in varying landscapes around the world.
Have China and renewable energy become the pillars of the future of sustainability? Only time will tell as other nations lean toward incorporating renewable energies to compete against China’s growing market hegemony. China’s remarkable journey towards sustainable future has been an exciting one to watch, but it is far from over.
– Sydney Nam