China pushes wind and solar power while the United States dithers

Conservatives love arguing that it’s pointless to battle global warming when countries like China are growing and adding pumping more carbon into the atmosphere. In one sense they have a point, but what if China invests heavily in renewable energy? Also, while doing so, what if they take the lead in green manufacturing and technology?

As the United States takes its first steps toward mandating that power companies generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already has a similar requirement and is investing billions to remake itself into a green energy superpower.

Through a combination of carrots and sticks, Beijing is starting to change how this country generates energy. Although coal remains the biggest source of energy and is almost certain to stay that way, the rise of renewable energy, especially wind power, is helping to slow China’s steep growth in emissions of global warming gases.

While the House of Representatives approved a requirement last week that American utilities generate more of their power from renewable sources of energy, and the Senate will consider similar proposals over the summer, China imposed such a requirement almost two years ago.

This year China is on track to pass the United States as the world’s largest market for wind turbines — after doubling wind power capacity in each of the last four years. State-owned power companies are competing to see which can build solar plants fastest, though these projects are much smaller than the wind projects. And other green energy projects, like burning farm waste to generate electricity, are sprouting up all over the country.

This oasis town deep in the Gobi Desert along the famed Silk Road and the surrounding wilderness of beige sand dunes and vast gravel wastelands has become a center of China’s drive to lead the world in wind and solar energy.

A series of projects is under construction on the nearly lifeless plateau to the southeast of Dunhuang, including one of six immense wind power projects now being built around China, each with the capacity of more than 16 large coal-fired power plants.

Each of the six projects “totally dwarfs anything else, anywhere else in the world,” said Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels.

In one sense, this is not a zero-sum game. We want China to make this progress, and it’s encouraging to see these investments in a country that until recently was becoming an environmental nightmare. Also, green technology will spread quickly around the world, and many green jobs involving installation and maintenance cannot be outsourced.

That said, it’s pathetic to see the Chinese move boldly in this area while we have one political party in the United States that resists investments in green energy for all sorts of reasons.

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