The Green Report
China Might Overtake the U.S. in Wind Power
The miner emerged all black and dusty from the coal mine, hoping to see the light of day. But all he could see was a bleak sun pockmarked by thick motes of coal dust. This is a common backdrop for the hundreds of mining villages that dot China’s vast geography. With this, the country has been on the fast track, developing ambitious plans to decrease its heavy dependence on coal for energy and doubling its wind power capacity every year since 2005. In fact, China is expected to leap ahead of the U.S. in terms of generating wind energy capacity later this year.
This means that the Middle Kingdom is all set to boost its wind power capacity to 100 gigawatts (GW) by 2020, which is eight times higher than its current level. The plan is part of a stimulus package to advance renewable energy initiatives. The threat of global warming and climate change is pushing China into tight corners, forcing Beijing to drum up a list of proposals aimed at reining in the country’s global warming gas emissions. This comes as welcome relief to the world’s second largest energy consumer next to the U.S., and the topmost greenhouse gas polluter worldwide, a country with a reliance on coal for 80% of its energy output.
Dunhuang, an oasis in the heart of the Gobi Desert along the legendary Silk Route, has become the epicenter of China’s drive to build up its wind and solar energy. Work is progressing at a blistering pace on various projects, particularly on six vast wind power set ups. As Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels said in a New York Times report, each of the six projects “totally dwarfs anything else, anywhere else in the world.”
Elsewhere, in Gansu province located in the northwestern part of the country, China will begin constructing what could be its biggest wind power station. Known as the “Three Gorges of Wind Power,” the project is estimated to exceed $17.6 billion and will have an installed capacity of 20 GW by 2020. These are just a few projects that are taking the country’s wind power industry by storm.
Apart from environmental benefits, China’s move to step up wind power is expected to attract around $150 billion in investment. Industry watchers predict that China’s wind power industry will grow up to 24% this year. The prediction might not be off the mark, considering that the shares of the country’s largest wind power turbine manufacturer have risen more than 60% in 2009 alone.
But having wind power assignments in various stages of completion does not mean that China will stop emitting black smoke overnight. For one, China’s power consumption is simultaneously rising, and over the next decade 720 million rural consumers are expected to become empowered enough to buy air conditioners and other power draining amenities.
Faced with a rapidly blackening sky and choking atmosphere, the Chinese government made it mandatory in 2007 for large power companies to generate at least 3% of their electricity from renewable resources by the end of 2010. Chinese power companies have rushed to do the bidding, not only because of the mandate but also because they have become cash rich and state banks make borrowing very easy. Construction of plants feeding off coal energy has already slowed down considerably since 2008 and continues to do so.
Currently, the U.S. still reigns as the world’s biggest generator of wind energy, as its wind energy capacity increased by 50%, overtaking Germany in 2008. With U.S. President Barack Obama finalizing the framework for renewable energy production offshore, wind energy use is expected to continue booming. But the economic crisis still casts a pall on the economy, and in sharp contrast to its Chinese rival, finances for wind projects are not easy to come by in the U.S. This opens up the door for the Chinese to overtake the U.S. in the race for the wind energy title this year.
The U.S. might be winded from climbing the steps to the top of the wind power grid while China is just beginning to fill its lungs with clean air. But competition often reaps its rewards. With China nipping at its heels, the U.S. might just speed up its efforts and give its rivals a good run for their money. Either way, the world is waking up to bluer skies and greener environments thanks to the efforts of these major economies. For the coal miner in Beijing this is good news.
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