In Latest Step In Its ‘War On Smog’ Effort, China Says It Will Triple Solar Capacity By 2017

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"In Latest Step In Its ‘War On Smog’ Effort, China Says It Will Triple Solar Capacity By 2017"

A view of a heavily polluted city center on December 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China.

A view of a heavily polluted city center on December 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

As part of its notorious “war on smog” and effort to cut its reliance on coal, the Chinese government on Friday announced that it would speed up solar power development in the country by tripling installed capacity to 70 gigawatts by 2017, a report in Bloomberg said.

If met, the goal would increase installed solar capacity in China by about 50 gigawatts, about the amount of energy it takes to power 12.8 million homes. At the end of last year, China had almost 20 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, according the Bloomberg report.

The Chinese government’s announcement also included plans to have 150 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity, 11 gigawatts of biomass power and 330 gigawatts of hydro power by 2017.

The announcement comes just two months after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s officially “declared war” on the country’s horrific and tragic smog problem, which scientists in Beijing have compared to the effects of a nuclear winter. The pollution has made headlines around the world as it has worsened, causing myriad health problems, marring cityscapes, and even giving an 8-year-old girl lung cancer. What’s more, the pollution has recently been confirmed to be caused by fossil fuel production, with coal at the forefront.

China’s announcement that it would increase solar capacity also comes just days after a report found that China’s continued dependence on coal would thwart any effort to fight global warming by any other country. That report, led by the U.K.’s Center for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, recommended China swiftly reduce its dependency on the fossil fuel, otherwise it would be “almost impossible” for the world to avoid a situation where global warming stays below 2°C.

“The actions China takes in the next decade will be critical for the future of China and the world,” the study said. “Whether China moves onto an innovative, sustainable and low-carbon growth path this decade will more or less determine both China’s longer-term economic prospects in a natural resource-constrained world, … and the world’s prospects of cutting greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to manage the grave risks of climate change.”

There is reason, however, to be skeptical of China’s efforts to fight its choking pollution. Despite experiencing the worst air pollution on record in 2013, the country last year approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity at a cost of $9.8 billion, according to a report compiled in January by Reuters. The increase in coal production in 2013 was six times bigger than the increase in 2012, when the administration approved just four coal projects with 16.6 million tonnes of annual capacity and a total investment of $1.2 billion. In other words, in just one year, China added coal production capacity equal to 10 percent of total U.S. annual usage.

At least one Chinese energy analyst, however, was optimistic about Friday’s announcement, telling Bloomberg by phone that it was a sign of better things to come.

“The trend that China will develop alternative energy is stable,” Wang Xiaoting, a Hong Kong-based analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said. “The new solar target set for 2017 will be easily attained if China keeps the current development pace.”

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