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China's Surge in Renewable Energy
(Released May 2011)

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  by Ethan Goffman  

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Of its manifold energy efforts, China has been most visible in its race to exploit wind, which is the cleanest green energy, with zero emissions and zero waste produced. This is largely because of China’s abundant wind resources, but also because the technology is ripe for development; Europe and the United States have seen similar booms in wind energy. None, however, can match China’s. From 2000 to 2008, China’s installed wind power swelled from 340 megawatts MW to 12 GW (Ma). In 2009, China became “the world's largest maker of wind turbines. During the same year, China overtook Germany to become the world's second largest wind power producer” (Ma). In 2010, the U.S. added 5 GW of wind, while China added 16 GW to become the world leader at 41.8 GW (of which, however, only 31.1 GW are connected to the grid) (Ma, Beyond). The speed of construction is nothing short of amazing: China’s “installed wind power capacity has doubled each of the past four years, and is likely to exceed the 2020 target next year, a decade ahead of schedule” (Ford).

Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China
Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China.

The scope and scale of China’s wind achievement is unprecedented. One project, the Rudong wind farm in Jiangsu Province, began in 2007 with 100 wind turbines. By May of 2009, the project had yielded nearly 900 million kilowatt hours (kWh), “saving the equivalent of 340,000 tons of standard coal and 1.8 million tons of water, and reducing emissions by 940,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 5,400 tons of sulfur dioxide” (Yunyun). This was only the beginning. Currently, “six immense wind power projects [are] being built around China, each with the capacity of more than 16 large coal-fired power plants” (Bradsher, Green Power).

One unique feature of China’s wind power is the location of intertidal wind resources, those in shallow water. Elsewhere, wind power is located strictly on land or offshore; only China is coping with this third environment. The muddy foundations of these areas make constructing foundations particularly difficult (World Bank), as well as harming the ocean bottom habitat, potentially reducing fisheries. Such problems, however, seem only to slightly slow China’s momentum.

Beyond constructing its own wind resources, China has become the world leader in exporting components of wind farms, as the last section discusses in more detail. Considering its export-oriented growth, China’s strategy from the start may have been to beat the rest of the world in the production of renewable technology.

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