How China's Renewable Energy Model Could Benefit the U.S.

China works hard to make renewable energy more efficient

••• Mick Ryan, Getty Images.

China requires an incredible amount of energy, both electricity and fuel for cars. This demand for energy has resulted in China becoming one of the world's largest polluters. But it is also extremely responsive to that problem, and it focus on renewable energy could have positive spin offs for the U.S.

China Has Pledged to Increase Renewable Energy Usage

China has pledged to raise its consumption of renewable energy (such as solar, wind, or biofuel) to 15 percent of its overall energy consumption by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030. Not only will this initiative help China's environment, but it will be a boon for development of renewable energy in general, and should help China's economy. When attempting to achieve these goals, China must increase the efficiency of its renewable energy, so that what is captured from the sun or wind, or other renewable sources is not wasted.

 It has a 2020 target for reducing the loss, which is called curtailment.

A World Leader in Renewable Energy

Because of both the pollution that had been excessive in China at the beginning of this century and the projected need for alternative energies well into it, the nation's government passed several laws mandating research and development of renewable energy. These laws have been generated in conjunction with various five-year plans that the nation began in 1957 and which began emphasizing energy policies around the end of the 20th century.

The above pledge to get more of its energy from renewable sources was China's strategy to meet its promise to reduce its carbon emissions (produced by burning any sort of fossil fuel and which trap heat in the atmosphere), which it made with the United States during the Obama administration, in 2014.

Success with Renewables Cuts Coal Production

Coal is being phased out in favor of renewable energy. In 2007, 81 percent of the electricity in China was generated from the burning of coal. By 2015, this segment had dropped to 73 percent, and production of coal has been steadily declining to the present. 

Coal is being supplemented by renewable energies. With the various projects and infrastructure China has implemented, the nation has become the world leader in research and workable technologies in every major renewable energy. Here are the various forms of energy and the innovations China has been creating in them.

Solar. According to 2018 statistics from the International Energy Agency, China produces 25 percent of the world's solar panels. It also has six of the world's ten best solar panel manufacturers. It is also home to a creative and impressive project, a 250-acre solar panel farm in the shape of a panda, made up of different colored solar panels to make the features. Located in Datong, the farm has added 100 milliwatts (mW) of power to China's grid. 

Hydro. An important form of water energy, hydro power makes up 70 percent of China's renewable energy. It has been the jewel of their strategy since the beginning of the push for more renewables. During that time, the procedure has been to build enormous to dams to harness water.

The large nation is now ramping up these efforts. It is undertaking what will be the world's largest hydro power (or "pumped storage power") plant in the world at its 2021 completion. The plant is called Fengning and will generate 3.424 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity.

Wind. China's other key avenue to renewable energy is the development of wind turbines. These tall, skinny white wind "mills" are becoming more common. In fact, a joint venture between China and Japan involves the installation of an offshore wind turbine, or floating turbine. These are turbines attached to floating platforms that capture high winds off shore.

Electric Cars. We've saved the best for last. The other things discussed have to do with efforts to not only increase China's renewable energy output, but to make it more efficient. That will stop some of the energy from being wasted before it gets transformed into electricity or other power.

However, to keep carbon emissions down as much as China aims to, the nation will have to cut down its use of cars that use traditional fuel sources.

China has been very aggressive in getting the electric car grid in the fast lane. Up until 2014, the U.S. was the world leader in electric car sales, shipping just over 100,000 units. But China rocketed by, and it's now the world leader in electric cars: in 2017, China sold 680,000 vehicles, which is more than the rest of the world combined. Not only that, but it has converted its bus fleet to battery powered. The intense pollution that has plagued China, particularly Shanghai and other metropolises, is likely to dissipate.

China is doing a great job in terms of producing renewable energy and making it a larger part of its overall production, but there is a long way to go. Every year, it breaks records in investment in and production of green energy. CO2 emissions fell from 2014 from 2016; however, emissions were back up in 2017. This means that while China is working very hard, its energy needs are still high and cutting down on coal can occur only up to a point.

There's no doubt that China is far ahead of every other nation in the world when it comes to renewable energy. Investments in it have actually declined in other countries. Some of this stems from uncertainty, and some from the unpopularity of switching from older technologies, since that can mean loss of jobs on the short term.

How the U.S. Could Benefit from China's Energy Initiatives

China's initiatives can benefit the U.S. in several ways. These include:

Climate Change. To the extent that China can reduce carbon emissions, global climate change impacts will be reduced.

More Jobs. Renewable energy has proven to create more jobs than fossil fuel production. By 2016, the U.S. solar energy sector already employed 260,000 people versus 76,000 for coal.

Global Trade. By following China's approach to renewable energy, the U.S. could reduce its oil imports and improve its foreign trade balance.

Experience and Innovation.The success of China's initiatives and development cutting-edge technology should motivate the U.S. to consider policies to support renewables. Other countries will benefit from China's investments in related technologies.

Market for U.S. Natural Gas and Oil. As China builds its renewable energy capacity, it will still rely on fossil fuel, but will transition to less polluting forms than coal. As U.S. shale oil and gas production has increased, it has now become a net exporter. China’s rapidly growing demand for liquid natural gas for heating makes it an enticing export target for American firms.

It is hard to argue against efforts to fight global warming and pollution and respiratory ailments caused by heavy fossil fuel use. Policies and investments made by China can help reduce the impact of global climate change and further refine renewable energy technologies. China can serve as a road map for developing countries. The rest of us do have China to thank for its pioneering efforts––environmental gains in the future will be in debt to the technological advances discovered there.