Clean Power

Published on December 4th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


China Adding 500 Gigawatts of Renewable Power by 2020!

December 4th, 2010 by  

On the same day that Senate Republicans filibustered a vote for renewable energy in the USA, by contrast – China has just published an astoundingly ambitious and exciting renewable energy plan for the next ten years.

China’s plan is to get a total of 500 Gigawatts of renewable energy on the grid by 2020. It explodes wind power from a mere 25 GW on the grid now, to a staggering 150 GW, a six-fold increase on the previous already ambitious plan.

Liquid fuels would get a boost. The ten year plan would grow ethanol production from 2 million tons to 10 million tons, to expand biodiesel from 0.05 million tons to 2 million tons, biomass pellets for heating, from under a million tons to 50 million tons, and biogas and biomass gasification from 8 billion cubic meters to 44 billion cubic meters.

China is already the world leader in solar thermal hot water heaters for rooftops. The solar hot water goal is to have 300 million square meters of solar hot water collectors, up from 100 million in 2006.

Electric power would come from adding 100 GW to make 300 GW of hydro power, adding 125 GW to have 150 GW of wind power, adding 28 GW to have 30 GW of biopower, and going from a half Gigawatt to 20 GW of solar. Giant steps.

To put that in perspective: the US will have added 16 GW of all renewable energy combined once the Obama administration Recovery Act funds are allocated – which, while a fabulous change for us, because it doubles the entire last thirty years of renewables on the grid – pales by comparison with 500 GW.

And even that 16 GW is only if the last of the Recovery Funds can be protected from our loyal opposition. That doesn’t look likely. The GOP filibustered a vote to extend Recovery Act support for renewable energy.

China has no filibuster. I never thought I would live to see the advantages of a political process other than democracy, but living in one that seems to have devolved into a plutocracy (run for and by the fossil fuel industry, the richest industry on the planet) is changing my mind.

There actually are some big advantages with one-party rule. Clarity of purpose is one. Having a domestic enemy, sworn to make your side lose, at any cost to the country, is not helping America compete in creating the new clean energy economy. Because they don’t have an opposition party filibuster in China, their climate plan can actually be implemented.

But… wipe those tears away. Think globally.

If there is one country we climate hawks should be happy is not run like America, it is China. Because China is the world’s factory. And carbon emissions from the world’s factory are about to get lower. And that is a good thing.

Image: Auswandern Malaysia
Susan kraemer@Twitter

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • harry

    A significant portion of that renewable increase is from Hydro. China has the advantage of having invaded a neighbour with lots of mountains and rivers and no problem displacing its citizens that live in the way of a new dam. Of course all of this is dwarfed by China’s growth in coal-fired energy production.

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  • L.H.

    I’ve always found it interesting that in the US, the only institution that the public elects is the one institution the public wants to remove as much decision making powers as possible, and the institutions that the public has no say in how they are run are given the most power in make real decisions. What do you call the freedom to not have freedom?

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  • Mark Wooldridge

    Before one dives off into the greatness of wind power, one needs to realize the very severe limitations. Wind power has a capacity factor–MWhours actually produced divided by (nameplate MW X 8760hours/year)–of between 20 and 30% depending on location. The average operating time of a wind turbine is 60% of the time. So the majority of the time, the output is far below nameplate when the turbines actually run. When the turbines are running, the output swings considerably due to variations in wind speed. All these factors mean there has to be some other electrical generating facility running to make up the difference. Nuclear plants presently in existance do not ramp up and down very well so, pretty much, the backup has to be fossil power. When fossil plants are running below design load, their efficiency decreases meaning they put out more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of energy.

    So, if one wants to add wind power to increase the power capacity of a grid for new load, one also has to build a fossil plant or newer nuclear plant that can load follow more effectively. And, that new backup plant cannot sit around idle waiting to be started up, it must be running with enough reserve capacity to pick up all the wind turbine output within a few seconds.

    In short, wind power requires much more capital expenditure per megawatt-hour of new grid consumption than any fossil or nuclear facility because it requires something to back it up and a good bit of that something must be operating at relatively inefficient low load settings virtually all the time the wind turbines are producing power.

    As for China touting their wind power additions–they can put up a wind turbine a lot less expensively than we can. From what I have read, it is about half the cost of here. Does anyone remember it was the arms race that brought down the USSR because their economy could not support the race like ours could? It is my firm belief that is what China is attempting to do to us with renewable energy. Don’t forget, they are building new coal plants at a lot faster pace than they are adding wind or other renewable power.

    • You are factually wrong. China is replacing coal plants with wind power, by speeding up the percentage of wind on the grid, while dropping the percentage of coal on the grid. Nuclear is more expensive than wind and even solar now.

      • China is adding wind and solar capacity to the grid, but it is
        misleading to say China is “replacing coal plants with wind power”. China is still adding coal plants in large numbers – China had 363 new coal plants on the drawing boards at the end of 2012 according to a Guardian article ( The number of new coal plants in China is increasing at a somewhat slower rate than it did during the previous twenty years or so. This due in part to government supported increases in wind and solar capacity and is certainly a good thing, but the fact remains that the vast majority of China’s power comes from coal and that is going to remain the case for a long time to come.

        • Bob_Wallace

          China will cap coal consumption at 2011 levels starting in 2015. That means going forward from 2015 China coal plants will be allowed to burn 6% less coal than they did in 2012.

          At this point China is basically replacing less efficient coal plants with modern, highly efficient ones.

          As of a couple of years ago China had closed over 9,000 of its dirtiest plants. Don’t know what the number is now.

          China recently announced that they plan to peak their CO2 output by 2025 rather than 2030 as they had originally set. I expect they will dial it back to sooner, they’ve met other clean energy goal early and set more aggressive ones.

          China has announced that it wants to help lead the fight against climate change. They can’t do that an continue to burn a lot of coal. I suspect they mapped out a better route for themselves before going public with their climate change position.

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  • Tim L

    Our political system, in America, was purposely designed for gridlock, in order to stop the power, of a king. It was designed for the 18th century, and it worked well then.

    Now? Not so much.

    One problem I have with the way we govern is that we so obsess over the personal lives of our leaders, that quality people often don’t want to run. They don’t want to be subjected to the scrutiny. Not to mention the ADD we call Fox News and CNN.

    Free speech is one thing. Knowing who Bristol Palin is sleeping with is another.

    No wonder George Bush Jr ended up running our country. The man has a 3rd rate mind, but then again, his daddy had money.

    We will continue with our Gridlock of the Dummies.

    • I agree… historically, it made sense. Now we have a new king: the minority party Senate Republicans can go against the will of the majority of voters. They never need to capture more than 40 seats to run the country.

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  • Do you plan to link to the ‘astounding’ Chinese Plan? Or mention its name? Your numbers don’t match the ones we see here in China.

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  • I think this is quite great though I really doubt increasing the quantities of biofuels is a good idea. To me, biofuels aren’t sustainable (there are still a billion people that are underfed)

    Keep us updated on that !

  • Bill Woods

    To put this in perspective,

    “Coal supplied the vast majority (71 percent) of China’s total energy consumption of 85 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2008. Oil is the second-largest source, accounting for 19 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. While China has made an effort to diversify its energy supplies, hydroelectric sources (6 percent), natural gas (3 percent), nuclear power (1 percent), and other renewables (0.2 percent) account for relatively small amounts of China’s energy consumption mix. EIA envisages coal’s share of the total energy mix will fall to 62 percent by 2035 due to anticipated increased efficiencies and China’s goal to reduce its carbon intensity or carbon emissions per unit of GDP by at least 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. However, despite the anticipated efficiency gains, the absolute coal consumption should nearly double to 112 quadrillion Btu accompanying robust economic growth. China also recently announced plans to reduce its energy intensity levels (energy consumed per unit of GDP) by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020 and increase non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 15 percent of the energy mix in the same time period.”

    Also, the sustainable ability of dictators to “make the trains run on time” is easily overestimated.

  • sola

    The Western world needs to get their act together QUICKLY if they want to stay relevant and not only the mere uptakers of Chinese products.

  • sola

    Those figures are simply astounding.

    Looks like China is rocketing past the US not only in economic power but in energy production as well. Possibly, they know something about peak oil, natural gas and coal (peak-fossil). They know that they are coming to an abrupt end and they waste no time changing to sustainable energy production. By the time the US collapses under the effects of peak-fossil, they will have a strong renewable energy production portfolio. And their army will also be powered by that.

    Yes, a well managed dictatorship can be more efficient than a badly managed democracy. The US is in the death-grip of the Republicans (at least it looks like from here).

    Even the EU will be in a much better shape when peak-fossil comes because progress towards renewables has been continuous here (although the scale of the Chinese pales the EU too).

  • james

    Unfortunately, increasing the number of dams on Chinese rivers will make a disastrous water pollution problem even worse. More dams will also kill all aquatic life in the rivers due to the drop in water temperature. Also, if they dam any more rivers, their giant water project currently under way will fail. To produce the wind power generation they will have to increase their rare earth production which is already poisoning their country. Also, when sunlight is needed most to heat water in most of China is when they have the least due to cloud cover and the yearly dust storms. Not to mention their own pollution cloud. China is a cesspool. I was there last year. I think you listen to WAY too much Chinese Gov. dogma. It’s the same with America’s green tech. industry which also depends on Chinese rare earth metals. Do more research next time!

    • Karl

      Cesspool as it may be but they certainly look like they are taking steps in the right direction now. The reality of it though is that they are not doing this for purely environmental reasons. They will save alot of money over the long term AND have energy independence, neither of which we in the US have.

  • This was a good story, until the last paragraph. China’s release of carbon is going to skyrocket, even with these improvements. And that is the greatest challenge facing China and the world.

  • Steven

    China should do something with upgrading its grid and electrical infrastructure. Nowadays a lot of power of windturbines cant be integrated in the grid because the lack of capacity. So this windpower is simply wasted then.
    But I am sure the Chinese have a well thought-out plan to solve this problem soon.

  • Bob Wallace

    China is moving to cleantech. Europe is moving to cleantech.

    Republicans are working to keep America trailing along behind.

    In two years the economy should be in much better shape, unemployment should be down, not likely to 5%, but better than now. We need to take back the Congress and get ourselves back on track.

  • Ed

    China appears to be facing the future with game changing political mandates, absent the complications of a casino-like lottery, such as Cap and Trade.
    Dictated mandates for sustainable energy policies in China seems to resemble the simple economic tools used by progressive capitalistic democracies, such as policies which tax obsolete energy supplies and conversion technologies.
    Intelligent leadership by a small group of qualified decision-makers who rely on science and visionary economics seems far more agile and on-target than leadership by 500+ blubbering partisans and treasonous media pundits.

  • rajiv

    Nice to hear the progress that China is making in renewable energy sector.
    I guess time for USA to think deeply now…

  • China’s new national Five Year Plan focuses on greening of the country’s energy and management.

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