Tag Archives: China

China Tries to Clear the Air

China’s rapidly growing manufacturing economy requires lots of electricity. Historically China has met their electrical requirements by building coal-burning power plants. China does have some nuclear power, but coal has been the mainstay.

Graph of China's coal usage compared to the U.S.


In 1994, China began construction on the world’s largest hydroelectric dam across the Yangtze River. The Three Gorges Dam project took eight years to become operational and displaced 1.3 million people.

Polluted air at Tianamin SquareHydropower was a nice idea, but it couldn’t keep up with China’s rapidly growing economy. So many coal-burning power plants were built that by the time the Three Gorges Dam was up and operating, the air in Beijing was thick with smoke.

Graph of wind power installed capacity in leading countries
So China has aggressively pursued wind and solar power. The nation is already number 1 when it comes to wind power. http://www.earth-policy.org/

In fact, China has been building wind towers faster than the can connect them to the grid.

Graph of installed solar power capacity in leading countriesNow they’re doing the same with solar power. http://www.earth-policy.org/

Swanson’s Law states that every doubling of photovoltaic (PV) solar capacity results in a 20 percent reduction in unit cost. China aims to make solar power cheaper than coal by brute force. China plans on adding another 13,000 megawatts this year hitting 35 gigawatts in early 2015 and targeting 100 gigawatts by 2020. http://cleantechnica.com/2014/10/17/china-phase-financial-support-solar-power-sector-2020/ Last year China also added 13,000 megawatts of solar power. However last year 94% of that came from large utility-scale solar farms. This year China is trying to get over half of the new solar power from small projects. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-12/china-hunger-for-clean-energy-to-leave-no-rooftop-behind.html Michael Sankowski estimates that solar in China will become cheaper than coal by about 2018. http://monetaryrealism.com/china-asks-how-much-will-it-cost-us-to-make-solar-cheaper-than-coal/ That cost reduction will not only benefit China, but solar installations all around the world.

China’s commitment to reducing its carbon emissions announced during President Obama’s visit last month requires some massive spending by the Chinese government. Bloomberg news estimated that it would require “either 67 times more nuclear energy than the country is forecast to have at the end of 2014, 30 times more solar or nine times more wind power.” http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-21/latest-china-revolution-seeks-great-leap-for-clean-energy.html

But with China it is not either/or. Besides solar and wind, the nation also plans to almost quintuple its nuclear power in the next 5 years. Currently with 18 gigawatts of nuclear power, China plans to add 58 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2020 and have another 30 plants under construction. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-19/china-plans-to-slow-energy-consumption-increase-to-28-by-2020.html