China has largely driven its industrial revolution on filthy coal plants, but it is moving fast to green its energy supply — much faster than the West is. But carbon energy will still dominate there over the next decade.
China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States
last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind
turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.
China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the
world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally
hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal
These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect
that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a
reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in
“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ”
said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private
equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.
Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the
United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy.
“I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root
beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.
The United States and other countries are offering incentives to develop
their own renewable energy industries, and Mr. Obama called for redoubling
American efforts. Yet many Western and Chinese executives expect China to
prevail in the energy-technology race.
Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China’s
market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China. Vestas of Denmark
has just erected the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex here in
northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest
electronic controls and generators.
“You have to move fast with the market,” said Jens Tommerup, the president of
Vestas China. “Nobody has ever seen such fast development in a wind market.”
Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12
million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the
government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.
Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China’s economy than for the
environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United
States in 2012 — and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.
China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of
its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4
percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds
of China’s capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.
You might also want to read this Jan. 10 Thomas L. Friedman column: Who's sleeping now?