Discovery Guides Areas


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

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  by Ethan Goffman  


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Exporting Renewables


No longer content to compete with existing markets, China got ahead of the curve on renewable energy and has fulfilled its plan to become the world’s leading exporter of parts for wind and solar projects. For wind turbines from non-Chinese companies, up to “70 percent of the components are made in China” (Biello, China’s energy). In 2007, China made 1,700 MW of solar panels, “nearly half of the world's total production.” In stark contrast to wind energy, solar panels are manufactured solely for the export market, which received about 99 percent of these panels. (Biello, China’s energy).
Worker at a Chinese solar factory
A worker controls the production line of the photoelectric board product at the plant of Tianwei Yingli Green Energy Resources Co., Ltd.

China has worked systematically to dominate the renewable market. It does so by supporting its industries through partnerships and extremely low interest loans. It is also helped by an inexpensive labor market, where factory wages average under $300 a month (Bradsher).

The ability to undercut other markets was evident in the recent announcement that Evergreen solar is moving from Massachusetts to China, despite having received $58 million in state incentives to locate there (Meehan). Some 800 American workers were laid off (Bradsher). Anger over such events has led to the questioning of China’s tactics. The U.S., which invented modern solar and wind technology, is especially perturbed at seeing its production moving overseas, and has asked whether China violated World Trade Organization rules against unfair trade (Bradsher, Eilperin). The Editorial Board of the Christian Science Monitor went so far as to declare that “China must abandon its communist and mercantile approach to controlling green industries - as should other countries that are similarly tempted” (Monitor Editorial Board).

Still, China’s market is not completely closed. Indeed, corporations often work in partnership with China across several countries, and trade goes both ways. Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S, for example, “has just erected the world's biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex . . . in northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest electronic controls and generators” (Bradsher China Leading).

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