Discovery Guides Areas


China’s Surge in Renewable Energy

(Released May 2011 2011)

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  by Ethan Goffman  


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Suffering from severe and increasing pollution that threatens public health and generates social unrest, China began the 21st century with an ambitious program in clean energy. In 2001, only .02% of China’s energy mix was nonhydroelectric renewable energy (Wang & Li 189). Today, some 4% of its energy mix comes from wind, solar and biomass; it expects to double that amount by 2020 (Bradsher China Leading). From the beginning, export-oriented growth was part of this strategy, and China now leads the world in producing wind and solar parts.


Chinese Worker stacks green coal
A Chinese worker stacks the environmental-friendly "green" coal bricks at a plant in Shenyang.

Indeed export, spurred by cheap labor and government subsidies, has dominated China ’s industrial strategy since the late 1970s, leading to phenomenal rates of growth. The curse of this strategy has been pollution and environmental degradation. By its massive switch to clean energy, China has achieved a double benefit, economic and environmental. Yet it is unlikely to be enough to offset China’s enormous growth rate, which averaged 10.4% from 2001 to 2010, during which energy demand rose an astonishing 220% (Watts). Clean energy will only somewhat offset this. According to one study, coal’s portion of power generated “will shrink to 63% by 2020 and 51% by 2030 . . . down from 78%” in 2010 (Winning). This would be an impressive achievement; however, unless it is accompanied by a sharp drop in annual growth, China’s local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise. Aware of this, China has taken the unprecedented step of announcing that it will try to lower its annual economic growth rate, setting a 7% target over the next five years (Watts). For a country that has long pushed economic growth to the exclusion of all else, in a world obsessed with economic growth, this would be a revolutionary change. In combination with China’s push for renewable energy, perhaps this is the beginning of a paradigm shift? Perhaps it signals a switch to true sustainability, both economic and environmental? If so, not just China but the entire world can breathe a little easier.

© 2011, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals

  1. Thick haze blown off the Eastern coast of China, over Bo Hai Bay and theYellow Sea. The haze likely results from urban and industrial pollution.
    Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  2. This picture taken 18 July 2006 shows cyclists passing through thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, 100 kms east of Beijing in China's northwest Hebei province.
    Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images (2007), taken from Proquest's eLibrary.
  3. China CO2 emission per millions of metric tons from 1980 to 2009.
    Wikimedia Commons.
  4. Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China.,_China.jpg
    Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  5. A new neighborhood in Tieshan (Huangshi Prefecture-Level City, Hubei). Typically for Hubei, the buildings are equipped with solar water heaters.
    Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  6. Three Gorges Dam site, Sandouping, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest capacity hydroelectric power station with a total generating capacity of 18,200 MW.
    Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  7. Peter Corless 30 Sep 2005 Analysis of top 40 largest national economies (GDP) by plotting GDP per capita vs. 'energy efficiency' (GDP per million Btus consumed); an inverse examination of 'energy intensity.'
    Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  8. A worker controls the production line of the photoelectric board product at the plant of Tianwei Yingli Green Energy Resources Co., Ltd on June 24, 2009 in Baoding, China. China's top economic planning agency will soon submit a draft support plan of the country's new energy industry to the State Council for approval, a plan that would focus on nuclear power and renewable energy as wind and solar power, according to an official of the National Bureau of Energy.
    Feng Li/Getty Images (2009), taken from ProQuest's eLibrary.
  9. A Chinese worker stacks the environmental-friendly "green" coal bricks at a plant in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning province on December 16, 2009. China is to invest more than three trillion yuan (440 billion USD) in environmental protection over five years from 2011, state media said Thursday, as the country battles widespread pollution.
    STR/AFP/Getty Images, taken from ProQuest's eLibrary.
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