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China leads world in Renewable Energy

Paul Kando

Last week I briefly outlined the necessary steps in developing a comprehensive energy plan for Maine. Energy-related jobs figure prominently in any such plan and, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s latest Annual Review, renewable energy led the world in energy employment with 9.8 million workers worldwide — an increase of 1.1% in one year.  

Solar panels on a lake
Floating solar plant Huainan, China
photo credit: SUNGROW Power Supply Co.

New wind power installations contributed to a 7% increase in global wind employment, which has reached 1.2 million jobs. But solar photovoltaic (PV) power has become the largest energy employer, with 3.1 million jobs, up 12% from 2015. The growth came mainly from Asia, in particular from China.

China is the world leader in renewable energy, with more installed than in any other country on the planet. In 2017, that nation unveiled the Sungrow floating solar farm on a shallow manmade lake over a collapsed coal mine, near the city of Huainan in Anhui province. It can produce 40 Megawatts of power, enough energy to power 15,000 homes — twice as much energy as the previously largest floating solar farm on the planet, which was launched one year ago in the same area of that coal-rich region.

Solar plants floating on top of Chinese lakes and reservoirs help prevent the development of agricultural land and terrestrial ecosystems for energy use. The water also cools the electronics in the solar panels, helping them work more efficiently. For similar reasons Britain built a 23,000-panel floating solar farm on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir near Heathrow airport in 2016 to help power the Thames water treatment plant.

The Sungrow solar farm is just a small piece in China’s push towards renewable energy. China’s non-floating solar projects include the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park on the Tibetan plateau, which hosts 4 million solar panels producing 850 Megawatts of energy. Even that will soon be eclipsed by a 6 million solar panel project in the Ningxia Autonomous Region, which will produce 2 Gigawatts of power.

Needless to say, China has impressive annual renewable energy goals with plans to match. According to published data, these include increasing installed grid-connected wind power to 1.2 Gigawatts, backed up by 150-200 Megawatts of manufacturing capacity, to meet domestic demand; increasing biogas supplies (including from industrial organic waste water, farm waste, and biomass gasification systems) to 2 billion cubic meters; increasing the production of geothermal energy to 20 million square meters of land; and increasing the production capacity of solar cells to 53 Megawatts.

China recently announced it will invest another $361 billion in renewable electric power by 2020, and by 2022 expects to produce 320 Gigawatts of wind and solar power and 340 Gigawatts of hydropower. Currently renewables are responsible for 11% of China’s energy, trending to reach 20% by 2030.

Will America be made great again by revitalizing King Coal? By punitive tariffs on China? By denying climate science? By retarding solar and wind power development in states like Maine in favor of $6 billion worth of annual fossil fuel imports and an outmoded utility policy? Seriously? And where will Maine’s “non-exportable” jobs come from?—When more harvestable energy from the Sun strikes the Earth in one hour than all of humanity uses in a year!