Creating infrastructure on a large scale for a vast country with a growing population has, by necessity, been China’s focus. And they are very good at it. Many nations struggle to keep pace with the needs of their citizens and China is no different. It has, however, made some brave, but perhaps somewhat audacious investments in projects for the future.
One of the world’s biggest photovoltaic solar farms now exists in China. Construction began in 2013 and at completion the plant cost was estimated at US$721 million. It will produce 850MW, and power an estimated 200,000 households.
China also has the biggest wind farm in the world. The Jiuquan Wind Power Base is located in northwest China’s Gansu province. The farm has the ability to produce 10,572 kilowatts of power with a record number of wind turbines at 7000. The plant would be able to, according to the New York Times, “power a small country”.
Jiuquan Wind Power Base / Credit: Xinhua | English.news.cn.
The turbines are, however, standing idle. There is simply not enough demand to turn a profit. The demand from coal power plants remains strong and a cheaper source of energy.
There are additional project glitches, as with all engineering endeavours; the location of the turbines has made it difficult for engineers to erect transmission lines which reach populated cities.
China’s government is determined to have the country accept and use renewables – their emissions are very high and so they are actively addressing the issue. To this end China has begun a crackdown on coal power plants, ensuring that they operate under strict standards and future growth in the industry has been curtailed.
The country has pledged that they will spend $361 billion in renewable energies by 2020. Further large-scale solar plants are planned and investment into wind will also be sizable. According to Reuters, the cost of photovoltaic solar panels has dropped by 40% since 2010.
China has a long history of over-investment in engineering projects and real estate speculation. The country’s engineers overestimate the demand of several projects and then the investors over-invest in a project that has little public interest.
The New South China Mall - known as the biggest mall in the world, for example, was once branded a ‘dead mall’ due to the initial disinterest from the public. Twelve years after its construction it is now attracting customers.
Similarly and more concerning, in recent years there have been entire cities erected that have never seen inhabitants. The media refers to them as ‘ghost cities’.
Fortune published a story in 2014 that pointed out that 40% of Chinese investment projects were “either not finished on time or not completed at all.”
Credit: Wade Shepard / The New South China Mall
With this in mind the question is whether or not China’s renewable energy plans will achieve their objectives and reach their potential.
The Jiuquan Wind Power Base is only running at 40% capacity at the moment, but it is worth reflecting that China’s renewable energy plans will create thousands of new engineering jobs. China’s National Energy Administration said it would create 13 million jobs.
The New York Times reports that China is adding a new wind turbine to the country’s energy production every hour.
The Chinese government is certain that investment into renewables is going to be a success in the long-term. Lowering emissions from fossil fuel industries is in their best interest as they have been suffering from record levels of air pollution in their metropolitan areas; most notably in Beijing.
The rest of the world will be keenly watching how China’s investment in renewables plays out. Despite some nations achieving remarkable successes in these new technologies, most are more cautious about moving away from fossil fuels.
"China to Plow $361 Billion into Renewable Fuel by 2020." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 05 Jan. 2017. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.
"China's Deserted 'ghost Cities' Appeal to New Residents." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.
"In Pics: Jiuquan Wind Power Base in China's Gansu." In Pics: Jiuquan Wind Power Base in China's Gansu - Xinhua | English.news.cn. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.