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Published on February 2nd, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan

18

Wow, China IS Serious About Clean Energy!

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February 2nd, 2010 by Zachary Shahan
 

Obama said just the other day that “the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy,” and I got into a little discussion about the rivalry between Obama and the President of China, Hu Jintao, on this topic.

I thought I would leave that issue for awhile to cover other stories, but then this landed at my feet and I couldn’t resist. China’s upcoming Big Clean Energy plans are HUGE and are likely to dwarf what are currently the largest wind power and solar power projects in the world.

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Forbes, not exactly the most liberal publication, just did an article on “The World’s Biggest Green Energy Projects,” and it shows that 5 of the top 10 “largest renewable energy projects in the world” were built in the last two years.

Furthermore, though, those projects might look like LEGO® projects soon compared to China’s upcoming solar and wind projects.

Wind Power

The world’s largest wind power project is currently in Texas (with a capacity of 782 MW), but China “is in the midst of building a wind corridor that could grow to a staggering 20,000 MW, 25 times the size of Texas’ Roscoe Wind Farm.” (emphasis mine) This wind farm in China is expected to have a capacity of 5,000 MW by the end of this year.

Solar Power

Additionally, China just “announced it would build a 2,000 MW solar thermal project, five times bigger than the current largest one, California’s Solar Energy Generating System.”

And in the fall, China announced plans to build a 2000 MW solar photovoltaic farm, “33 times bigger than the world’s largest today, a 60 MW farm in Spain.” (empasis mine)

Washington State thought it would take the world title with a planned 75 MW solar PV plant — think again. It may complete this plant before China’s, but don’t think that it will be the big news for long.

Why Big Projects are More Difficult in the US

Jonathan Fahey of Forbes delves into some of the reasons why building such large projects in the US is such a big challenge:

“Though economies of scale help to reduce the cost per watt of bigger projects, bigger projects are riskier. ‘From the developer’s perspective, bigger is better,’ says Ethan Zindler, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ‘But from the utility’s perspective and the financier’s perspective, that’s not always the case.’

Another problem in the U.S. right now is that projects need to get up and running before government subsidies run out, and smaller projects are easier to complete. For example, at the end of this year a provision that allows developers to get a cash grant for 30% of the construction cost of certain projects is scheduled to expire.

Also, permitting and licensing bigger projects can be more difficult. There’s a rash of proposals for geothermal power plants rated at a relatively modest 49.9 MW, says Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, because permitting is easier for plants under 50 MW.”

Of course, in the end, this makes it hard for Obama to claim, as he did in his State of the Union speech, “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

In total, China is outspending the US by almost 7:1, pledging $440 billion vs $69 billion for clean energy over the coming years.

There is expectation that things might change when the economy recovers. “All the learning from this partnership will help us in the United States,” eSolar founder and chairman Bill Gross says. “I think as soon as the economy improves in the rest of the world and banks start lending, there will be a lot of competition in the U.S. and Europe. But, until then, China has the money and the demand.”

Bottom line: right now, China’s one-party government can say, “We want this now” and Obama simply cannot.

US Technology

The positive thing (for the US) is that China’s two huge solar projects will use US technology — photovoltaic panels from Arizona’s First Solar (in its large photovoltaic farm) and technology from California’s eSolar (on the solar thermal farm).

This may be where the US can really win, Gerard Wynn of Reuters reports. “[So]me in the West believe the United States still has an advantage in innovation. The owner of patents, not factories, will likely earn the biggest profits and win the technology race.”

But China may always go back to its unpopular tactic of buying China-produced and China-patented technology. We will have to see. For now, at least, it seems content to buy some US technology for its major solar projects.

Wynn, like Obama, doesn’t give the gold medal to China straight away (see the “CAN THE MARKETS PREVAIL?” section near the bottom of his “Is clean tech China’s moon shot?” article).

Nonetheless, China definitely seems to be aiming for an early lead.

Related Stories:

1) Who’s More Powerful than Obama?

2) China Forgets “China-Only Wind Turbines” Policy, but Why?

3) Locals to Get a Bus Tour of Proposed Abengoa Mojave Desert Solar Thermal Project

4) Biggest Wind Farm in World — in Texas

Image Credit: ♥ China ♥ guccio via flickr under a CC license

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Bill Woods

    You left out China’s biggest source of new clean power:

    “Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give a sixfold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 60 GWe or possibly more by 2020, and then a further substantial increase to 160 GWe by 2030.”

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    And a watt of nuclear capacity is worth about three of wind or solar.

  • Bill Woods

    You left out China’s biggest source of new clean power:

    “Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give a sixfold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 60 GWe or possibly more by 2020, and then a further substantial increase to 160 GWe by 2030.”

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    And a watt of nuclear capacity is worth about three of wind or solar.

  • http://www.planetsave.com Lucille Chi

    This is a great example of healthy competition between nations, thanks for stirring up this topic!

  • http://www.planetsave.com Lucille Chi

    This is a great example of healthy competition between nations, thanks for stirring up this topic!

  • John

    It is very frustrating that the senate is so completely paralyzed right now that we are not able to do things that are obviously good to do. This highlights the advantage of China’s system.

    The disadvantage of China’s system, however, is that they might sometimes move too quickly in the wrong direction. Building multiple gigawatts of renewable energy production on a whim can have unintended consequences. Is it located near population centers? Can the grid handle the variable nature of the new energy sources? Are there standards in place to make sure that these things are installed and maintained correctly?

    Consider this analogy — if the Chinese government ordered the production of 100 billion gallons of baby formula, I’m sure it would happen quickly and impressively. But would you let your kid drink it?

  • John

    It is very frustrating that the senate is so completely paralyzed right now that we are not able to do things that are obviously good to do. This highlights the advantage of China’s system.

    The disadvantage of China’s system, however, is that they might sometimes move too quickly in the wrong direction. Building multiple gigawatts of renewable energy production on a whim can have unintended consequences. Is it located near population centers? Can the grid handle the variable nature of the new energy sources? Are there standards in place to make sure that these things are installed and maintained correctly?

    Consider this analogy — if the Chinese government ordered the production of 100 billion gallons of baby formula, I’m sure it would happen quickly and impressively. But would you let your kid drink it?

  • Christof

    Have mixed feelings – on the one hand, the U.S. ought to be doing more on renewable energy. On the other, I don’t believe massive solar plants are the best way to go. While I recognize some of these might be necessary, there’s plenty of rooftop — and parking lot — space in the U.S. that could be covered by solar that’s a lot closer to where the electricity that’s being generated will be used. For instance, a study by the Energy Foundation found that “Residential and commercial rooftop space in the U.S. could accommodate up to 710,000 MW of solar electric power,” which is 75% of the nation’s current electric consumption.

  • http://lightngreen.com Zachary Shahan

    Christof, i totally agree with you on that. thanks for that comment.

    duchesnes, thanks for the extra info as well. there is definitely more to cover on this than what is in the article..

  • http://lightngreen.com Zachary Shahan

    Christof, i totally agree with you on that. thanks for that comment.

    duchesnes, thanks for the extra info as well. there is definitely more to cover on this than what is in the article..

  • duchesnes

    A wind “corridor” of 20 GW doesn’t tell us the size in square kilometers of the project or its averaged production in TWh/year.

    Europe has big wind ambitions too. Consider this ” http://wind-eole.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Downloads/Offshore/European_Offshore_Wind_Map_2009.pdf” and those projects are not with expected load factors under 20 but well above 30.

    Almost 100 GW of off-shore wind projects are under consideration in the North and Baltic Seas alone. 1 GW (more) of off-shore windmills are to be connected to the grid in 2010 in europe.

    For a beginning…

  • duchesnes

    A wind “corridor” of 20 GW doesn’t tell us the size in square kilometers of the project or its averaged production in TWh/year.

    Europe has big wind ambitions too. Consider this ” http://wind-eole.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Downloads/Offshore/European_Offshore_Wind_Map_2009.pdf” and those projects are not with expected load factors under 20 but well above 30.

    Almost 100 GW of off-shore wind projects are under consideration in the North and Baltic Seas alone. 1 GW (more) of off-shore windmills are to be connected to the grid in 2010 in europe.

    For a beginning…

  • Ivory

    I’m so glad China is now well recognized as a potential leader of clean energy economy. It’s not the point whether the government or the citizens who want to build so big or so many wind farms, but WHO has the ability to turn everybody’s dream into reality is, the U.S. or the China. Because clean energy is a MUST. It’s not about the bigger the better. It’s about that you mean it and do it.

  • Ivory

    I’m so glad China is now well recognized as a potential leader of clean energy economy. It’s not the point whether the government or the citizens who want to build so big or so many wind farms, but WHO has the ability to turn everybody’s dream into reality is, the U.S. or the China. Because clean energy is a MUST. It’s not about the bigger the better. It’s about that you mean it and do it.

  • http://islandinthenet.com Khürt Williams

    Yep. Totalitarian governments mandates can have that effect on a market. “Do this or we burn down your town to make room fo rour project”.

  • http://islandinthenet.com Khürt Williams

    Yep. Totalitarian governments mandates can have that effect on a market. “Do this or we burn down your town to make room fo rour project”.

  • MD

    “Why Big Projects are More Difficult in the US”

    Flip the coin – Why are they so easy in China…

    No NIMBYISM..

    +

    Capitalist Totalitarian Governments tend to do whatever they want, when they want… you move or they move you by force if necessary.

  • MD

    “Why Big Projects are More Difficult in the US”

    Flip the coin – Why are they so easy in China…

    No NIMBYISM..

    +

    Capitalist Totalitarian Governments tend to do whatever they want, when they want… you move or they move you by force if necessary.

  • Christof

    Have mixed feelings – on the one hand, the U.S. ought to be doing more on renewable energy. On the other, I don’t believe massive solar plants are the best way to go. While I recognize some of these might be necessary, there’s plenty of rooftop — and parking lot — space in the U.S. that could be covered by solar that’s a lot closer to where the electricity that’s being generated will be used. For instance, a study by the Energy Foundation found that “Residential and commercial rooftop space in the U.S. could accommodate up to 710,000 MW of solar electric power,” which is 75% of the nation’s current electric consumption.

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