A couple of years ago, China set an ambitious goal for renewable energy capacity – which includes wind, solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear power – for it to exceed fossil fuel capacity by 2025. According to a recent report by Reuters, China has hit this goal two years ahead of schedule. Renewables now make up 50.9% of the country’s power capacity.
The rapid growth in renewable capacity has largely been driven by investments in wind and solar megaprojects in the sparsely populated west of the country that export power to the manufacturing centers in the east. China’s most recent 5-year plan calls for 570 gigawatts of wind and solar power to be installed over that period, which more than doubles its installed capacity. The plan makes use of what it called “clean energy bases”, which utilize sandy and rocky deserts, other types of barren lands, and wastelands left behind by coal mining. The largest clean energy bases make use of vast deserts in Inner Mongolia and Gansu.
One cautionary note is that power capacity refers to the maximum amount of electricity that a power plant can produce under ideal conditions. Thus, for example, it refers to how much electricity a solar farm can generate at noon on a cloudless day. So, the new figures from China don’t necessarily reveal how much electricity China is actually drawing from renewables. In reality, China still gets a great deal of its power from coal.
China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide – more than twice as much as the United States, albeit from nearly 4 times the population. The rapid growth of renewables is at least moving that country in the right direction.
Photo, posted December 2, 2015, courtesy of IBM via Flickr.