Those worried about the implications of Chinaâ€™s economic growth on the environment will be somewhat reassured by the nationâ€™s recent plans to incorporate renewable energy as a cornerstone of future power generation. In fact, solar power alone is set for an increase in capacity to 10 gigawatts by 2015 â€“ a huge increase from the current 860,000 kilowatts derived from solar power in China now.
And these projections are not just empty targets. China has devised a three pronged approach to increase its solar power capacity:
- Construct grid-connected solar power projects in Western China where there are sufficient solar energy resources (sunlight). The country seeks to develop 5 gigawatts of solar power capacity in Western China.
- Promote rooftop solar power systems in urban areas
- Promote photovoltaic power generation in Chinaâ€™s 100 pilot cities for new energy and 200 counties for green energy.
This focus on renewables is hugely important for a country that is determined to make the transition from an export dominated economy to a consumer-driven one. That is, China seeks to drive its economy through its own domestic market rather than solely through its global exports. However, there are clearly some major environmental concerns that need to be considered with the addition of 1.3 billion new consumers to the world.
China is aware of these concerns, and has embarked on a concerted effort to reduce its carbon footprint while achieving economic growth. It overtook the US in wind power generation in 2010, while investing 40% more than America in clean technology as a whole. Clearly this recent push in solar power is a sign the China intends to take the lead when it comes to investing in a newer, cleaner economy. And the time seems ripe to initiate such a push, as the drop in cost for solar energy is between 10 â€“ 20% each year.
This is exactly what countries need to be doing if they want to solidify their economic growth well into the 21st century.
Oil is old news. It is a dirty energy source of the 20th century, shrouded in political turmoil and major environmental impacts. China has realized this and is improving its competitive edge for when the shift to renewable energy will be a necessity rather than a choice.
But despite this push from China to incorporate renewables such as solar power in its energy portfolio, other countries have been hesitant to adopt such bold plans. Why is this? Are their economic systems too imbedded in a fossil fuel economy? Are vested interests too powerful?
What are your thoughts?
Image CC licensed by Matthijs Koster: Solar panels in Kunming