China Poised to Become Clean-Energy Leader?

Three Gorges DamChina regularly takes its fair share of heat for its pollution problems, tainted seafood and lead-based toys, but maybe it’s time to give it some credit too. While the country is on pace to pass the U.S. as the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, it might also be on its way to becoming the global leader in renewable energy.

According to a report released this week by the Worldwatch Institute, if China keeps heading down the path it’s on, the nation could see 30 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2050. In the nearer term, China aims to get 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. If if keeps moving forward as it has, though, it might even exceed that target, according to the Worldwatch report.

“China is poised to become a leader in renewables manufacturing, which will have global implications for the future of the technology,” said Eric Martinot, a senior fellow at Worldwatch who authored the report with Li Junfeng, vice chair of China’s Renewable Energy Society.

This year, China is expected to spend more than $10 billion in building new renewables capacity. Its wind and solar-energy sectors are growing especially rapidly (both doubled last year), so much so that China is likely to pass solar and wind leaders in Europe, Japan and North America in the next three years.

For comparison’s sake, only Germany is likely to invest more in new renewables this year. Total global spending on renewables in 2006 was $50 billion-plus.

Martinot pins China’s success so far on “a combination of policy leadership and entrepreneurial savvy.”

As of this year, China can boast of four major domestic makers of wind turbines, as well as six foreign wind-power subsidiaries. Another 40-plus companies are in the development stage of commercial wind-turbine production. The country has also seen its production capacity for solar photovoltaic cells more than quadruple over the past three years, from 350 megawatts in 2005 to an expected 1,500 megawatts this year.

China’s also surging ahead in other ways, expanding its production of solar hot-water systems, generating 2 gigawatts of energy from agricultural waste and dominating the small-hydropower market.

“China’s position provides a strong example for other developing countries, while helping to drive down renewable energy costs to become competitive with fossil fuels for all countries the world over,” said Li Junfing

With concern that the latest U.S. energy bill might come up for a vote without a renewable portfolio standard, perhaps some developed countries could take China as an example in this regard, too.

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