China provides perhaps the best example of a genuine solar revolution. In recent years China, and in particular the capital Beijing, have become synonymous with heavy air pollution with carbon emissions a natural result of being the largest manufacturing base in the world. The Olympic Games held in Beijing in 2008 highlighted to the world the problems that China is having with pollution in urban areas where population density and heavy road traffic has contributed to a situation where on some days visibility is severely reduced.
The televised images of the Beijing skyline obscured by a murky cloud of smog offered a grim reminder of the contamination which is of course an inevitable by-product of a rapidly industrialising economy. However, China has embraced the concept of renewable energy with a massive shift towards solar energy. Legislation introduced by the Chinese government has been designed to spark investment in renewable energies and has so far, proved to be successful.
As the largest manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) components, China has been a market leader in developing new products for markets elsewhere. Certainly, the Spanish market which experienced its own boom following the introduction of a feed-in tariff in 2007 relied massively on Chinese PV imports with the market experiencing a glut of Chinese produced PV plant when the Spanish industry went through its downturn and failed to install the solar plant which had been ordered. However, in a bid to alleviate some pollution problems and help meet climate change targets, the Chinese government has recently sought to increase the number of solar installations within the country.
In order to do this the government introduced a feed-in tariff system. Essentially, the feed-in tariff (FIT) was designed to attract investment in the new solar industry by offering financial incentives to investors. The FIT mechanism operates on the basis that the law guarantees a fixed, premium rate for units of electricity fed-in to the grid by solar energy generators. The utility companies are obliged by the legislation to purchase the solar electricity at above market prices, the costs of which are passed on to the consumers. In China this mechanism which has been successful in areas such as Germany, Spain and California has also proved successful in China. In July 2009, the New York Times ran with the headline, “Green Power Takes Root in China” heralding the arrival of the Chinese PV market on the world stage.
The arrival of the Chinese PV industry has come in the form of a national renewable energy law which decrees that utilities must generate 8 per cent of their energy by renewable means by 2020. The fact that this 8 percent figure does not include hydroelectric power adds to the importance which the Chinese are now placing on green energy. The growing awareness of the lack of long-term sustainability in traditional coal energy sources has prompted the Chinese government to take action to maintain China has a major industrial power well in to the future. There has also been somewhat of a frenzy among private companies seeing the opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves in the Chinese renewable industry, with a growing activity particularly in sectors such as wind and photovoltaic technology which will inevitably boom in China in the near future.
The New York Times was keen to use this Chinese government action to make comparisons with the comparatively weak efforts being made in Washington to spur the renewable sector in the United States. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, with the recent feed-in tariff legislation, members of the green energy industry will be hopeful that government action in the UK will have the same effect it has had on the Chinese market.
The New York Times asserted its almost neurotic view of Chinese renewable growth compared to that of the US by warning,
“You won’t just be buying your toys from China, you’ll be buying your energy future from China.”
China has a target in place to produce 8000 megawatts of energy by wind energy by 2010 which they are set to smash. If China continues apace to move towards green energy, they will surely shame efforts currently being made in the West to develop their own sustainable renewable industries.