Its been a while since we’ve had an extensive discussion of China’s solar market. Here, we catch up with some of the major the developments in this space over the past half year or so. A new US-China dynamic highlighted by two-large scale projects, policy action by provincial-level governments, and lots of activity by Chinese solar poster child Suntech, and more!
Let’s kick off with this pretty cool video created by ClimateWorks:
Now, onto recent developments:
Going Big with the Stars and Stripes
Google-backed eSolar, a three-year old Californian solar start-up, has signed an agreement to provide technology and assistance to Penglai Electric, a privately-owned Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer, to build a series of solar thermal power plants totaling at least 2 gigawatts over the next 10 years (see pictured right example of an eSolar installation). The first project, a 92-megawatt solar power plant, will be built this year and located in the 66-square-mile Shaanxi New Energy and Industrial Park in Yulin city, Shaanxi province of Northern China. The region has become a hot spot for renewable energy, with the 2,000-megawatt First Solar project planned 60 miles to the north in Inner Mongolia. China Huadian Engineering Co. will lead the construction process. At completion, China Shaanxi Yulin Huayang New Energy Co. will own and operate the first 92 MW plant. According to Todd Woody, eSolar already manufactures its heliostat arrays in China, and under the terms of the agreement with Penglai it will also build its power plant receivers there. The solar thermal power plants, using technology distinct from photovoltaics which currently dominate China’s solar power market, will consist of mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun rays to power a steam turbine. eSolar’s technologies, in particular, boasts ease of transportation and installment, modularity, scalability, redundancy, and resilience against wind tear.
This announcement mark the first large-scale commercial effort to develop CSP in China, something that has been on somewhat of a slow track for two main reasons; (1) Limits of water availability: How eSolar and its Chinese partners deal with the issue of the water-energy nexus (I precisely highlighted concentrated solar thermal as a technology that would run up to limits of water availability in a previous post, “Charting China’s Water Future: Closing China’s water availbility gap results in $21 billion in net savings“) since t Read the full story
What a dramatic sprint to the finish lime of COP15! When all was said and done, what resulted in the form of the Copenhagen Accord (available here) was a non-binding three-page agreement which the conference of parties “took note” of rather than voted for or signed in order to get round the objections of a handful of petro-states such as Bolivia, Venezuela, and Sudan, in addition to Cuba and Nicaragua (Jacob Werksmen of the World Resources Institute provides a good explanation of the legal implication of this). I’m not sure any of these states could ever be trusted as genuine international partners anyways.
The mainstream media was quick to dismiss the outcome as a failure, and very soon, new puns such as “flopenhagen”, “brokenhagen” and “nopenhagen” were uttered. Is this surprising? No, of course not. The mainstream media, at least in the Western world, likes headlines that shock and rouse up negative feelings. Its much simpler to convey to the public the message that the Copenhagen climate talks sputtered, than articulate the modest but important steps that the Copenhagen Accord yielded.
Well The Green Leap Forward is not the mainstream media. I will endeavor to provide a takeaway of some positive outcomes of the accord, and also try in a subsequent post to reflect on how China came out of this with respect to their negotiating position going in.
The Copenhagen Accord was not a breakthrough, but it wasn’t a complete failure either.
Those who were disappointed that COP15 did not produce a legally-binding outcome clearly were not doing their homework. Going in to the metings in Denmark on December 7, that was never an expected outcome. As I made clear in my “Copenhagen Kickoff” post, the goal of Copenhagen was to agree on a political statement or accord. At the emergency meeting at the APEC in Singapore in mid-November, leaders agreed that Copenhagen would be the first step of a two-step process, with the second step being a fully-ratifiable, legally-binding treaty. In Beijing days later for the US-China presidential summit, President Obama elaborated on this, expressing hope that what would come out from Copenhagen: Read the full story
Let’s take a break from the heavy reading and enjoy some great video clips. The first two are first and third place winners of the UNFCCC/CDM International Video Contest 2009 (the theme was “How the Clean Development Mechanism Changes Lives”), the prizes for which will be awarded in Copenhagen during the ongoing climate summit. The third is first in an upcoming series by ClimateWorks.
Natural Gas Power Plant in Inner Mongolia Changes Nasong’s Lives, by Yang Li & Xiaochen Zhan
Waste Heat and Methane Capture Project at a Steel Plant in Hunan Province, by Van Yang
China Takes the Lead in Wind Energy Development, by ClimateWorks
I was on Worldfocus radio last night with Rashid Kang of Greenpeace China for a general discussion moderated by Martin Savidge on China’s ambitions to green its economy (the other shade of green). Listen here:
Rashid and I explored the following issues:
- how China is greening rapidly and developing many alternative energy programs — from the world’s most efficient coal power plants to vast wind power fields and solar water heating technology
- implications of China’s growing automobile market
- why nuclear power could be the wrong alternative energy solution for China
- how food security affects China’s alternative energy strategy
- what is potentially, as I called it, “the holy grail of renewables” — energy storage
- and, why there are no climate change skeptics in China, but why China can’t go green overnight
Lesson to budding radio interviewees…always be cognizant of Read the full story
This guest post is by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, both graduate students at Yale University reporting live from Copenhagen exclusively for The Green Leap Forward.
The China Information and Communication Center （中国新闻与交流中心） held an unpublicized press briefing featuring Su Wei (pictured center of panel), China’s lead negotiator and Director-General of the NDRC’s Department of Climate Change. While mainly consisting of reporters, the event was open to anyone – well, just about any one of 50 people with their ear to the ground who managed to squeeze in early before crowds more were turned away. We were two of the lucky few who successfully navigated to the quiet back corner of the Bella Center, near the Chinese delegation’s offices, where the briefing took place. The briefing also came after China and the G-77 delegations canceled their press conferences this afternoon, only to restage them later in the day, supposedly in response to some controversy over leaked Danish draft text. But more on this later.
Mr. Su was completely unabashed when it came to his comments regarding developed country commitments. Targeted amongst his criticisms were the European Union, Japan, and the United States.
- During the European Union’s briefing earlier today, representatives compared China’s carbon intensity target to commitments by the European Union, suggesting that China’s target isn’t strong enough. Mr. Su said that if the E.U. wants to make any comparisons, it should compare the E.U.’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol with their actual performance to date. Those are fighting words. He also said that China’s carbon intensity target is completely incomparable with total emissions reductions and that it’s foolish to compare China’s recently announced target with reductions required from developed countries. After citing numbers that made it appear that the E.U. was not substantively racheting up their emission reductions for the second Kyoto commitment period, Mr. Su asked the audience whether we thought their commitments were truly “ambitious, meaningful, and substantive,” allowing the translator to take a break and making his point clear in plain English.
- In response to a question about Japan’s commitments and whether they were doing enough in terms of financing, transfer of know-how and technology, Mr. Su lauded their promise to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 and the positive progress they’ve made thus far. However, even the Japanese shouldn’t feel self-satisfied, as the premise for their 25 percent reductions is based on the U.S. also making commitments in line with the Kyoto Protocol. And, as we all know, the prospect of the U.S. signing on to Kyoto is as likely as a sunny hot day in Copenhagen during December (God willing we all do our jobs at COP-15). Therefore, Mr. Su concluded that the Japanese proposal de facto has no meaning.
- Moving on to the United States, Mr. Su said that Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. would commit to reducing emissions 17 percent by 2020 below 2005 levels was “not remarkable, not notable,” again using English to punctuate his statement. Mr. Su noted that U.S. emissions grew 16 percent between 1990 and 2005. He pointed out the obvious truth that the proposed 17 percent reduction (which is passing as slowly as chewing gum through the U.S. Senate’s backlogged intestinal tract) amounts to only a 1 percent reduction as far as the Kyoto Protocol is concerned.
It’s no surprise that Mr. Su harped back to the principle of we heard repeatedly from Mr. Su, historical emissions matter, as the cumulative emissions of the E.U. and U.S. are much larger than China’s. From China’s perspective, the carbon intensity reductions they have put on the table are an offering where none is necessary. Such an action represents their goodwill and a “responsible attitude,” according to Su.
A question was asked about if and when China would consider peaking its carbon emissions (see previou spost “Peaking Duck:Beijing’s growing appetite for climate action“) Mr. Su basically reiterated how unfair he felt it was to talk about developing country peak emissions at this point and that developed countries should shoot for achieving their pick as soon as possible. He also said because China was still industrializing and heavily reliant on coal and other fossil fuels, it would be difficult to predict a peak.
The briefing also came after China and the G-77 delegations canceled their press conferences this afternoon, reportedly due to panic onset when a Danish text was leaked that would supposedlyt give more power to developed countries. The Guardian provides a summary of some of the key tenets of this “secret draft agreement:”
In particular, it is understood to:
- Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;
- Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called “the most vulnerable
- Weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance;
- Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.
(We have not yet verified how the Guardian got to these numbers, as the leaked Danish text does not make mention of specific quantities. The current disparity in per capita emissions between developing and developed countries is much larger than this, meaning it would take a lot for both developed and developing countries to reach these levels. We hope to address this in a later post.)
Surprisingly, it seemed that third-party observers had more knowledge of the sensitive texts. When asked what he thought about the Danish proposal to require developing countries to determine a peak year for collective emissions (Article 9), Mr. Su responded that he was unaware of the text and that discussions of peak emission years for developing countries was premature. In the United States’ briefing for NGOs an hour later, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing also downplayed the significance of the Danish proposal, saying that there were multiple Danish texts circulating and that the hosts wouldn’t be doing their job without offering more food for fodder. It seems to us that this may have been a strategic move on the part of Pershing and the U.S. to lessen some of the initial hysteria rippling through the developing country parties. Or perhaps lead negotiators really were too busy hammering out texts behind closed doors that they didn’t have time to check their e-mail.
[Note by Julian: It now seems that Guardian may have been reviewing what appears to be an early draft that has since undergone "extensive revisions" in consultation with both developed and developing countries, reveals ChinaDialogue. The Danish Government itself is denying the existence of a “secret draft for a new Copenhagen Agreement” but rather “many working papers used for testing various positions.” See also this analysis by my colleague as to how all this is "typical overblown COP drama." Let's also not forget that the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) also have their own "secret text" outlining pretty tough negotation stances (see previous post "Green Hops: BASIC Instinct, New Energy Plans, Natural Gas Deals").]
Moon Landing, Solar Eclipse, and nowSolar Takeoff! China launches Golden Sun subsidies for 500 MW of PV projects by 2012
This post is dedicated to my “golden son/sun”, Keane, who just turned one yesterday.
It is with interesting irony that China has launched its much anticipated Golden Sun program of incentives for the deployment of 500 MW of large-scale solar PV projects throughout the country the day after the 40th annivesary of the America’s landing on the moon, AND a day before an actual solar eclipse.
The “Apollo Project” of our generation as summed up nicely by my colleague, not out there in space, but right here on Earth:
Our top planetary mission for the foreseeable future must be to stop destroying the one climate hospitable to the one civilization that we know of in the entire galaxy.
China is doing its part, pulling ahead in the race for a sustainable Earth, as it launches its domestic solar industry. It is thus quite ironic that as parts of China experiences a solar eclipse today, what is in fact transpiring in the solar industry is the opposite–a new dawn.
Reuters has actually done a decent job of hitting the main points of the Golden Sun policy (《金太阳示范工程财政补助资金管理暂行办法》; original Chinese document here), so we’ve stolen their summary and reproduced them in the following bullet points: Read the full story
A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, “China is building two coal-fired power plants a week!” They insist that the United States should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security Act (H.R. 2454). They further claim that if such a bill became law, the United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is exactly wrong.
Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China’s power is derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United States as the word’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China’s per capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than one-tenth that of the United States.
Still, the Chinese have recognized that it’s climate inaction—not climate legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S. Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobs and innovation.
China ranked second in the world in 2007 in terms of the absolute dollar amount invested in renewable energy, according to the Climate Group. It spent $12 billion, which put it just behind Germany’s $14 billion. These investments have placed China among the world leaders in solar, wind, electric vehicle, rail, and grid technologies. And now approximately 9 percent of China’s $586 billion economic stimulus package will go toward sustainable development (excluding rail and grid) projects.
China is expected to unveil in the coming weeks another extensive and unprecedented stimulus package—reported to be in the range of $440 billion to $660 billion—dedicated solely to new energy development over the next decade, including generous investments in wind, solar, and hydropower. If those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned global leader in clean-energy production, significantly increasing its chances to wean its energy appetite off coal, and at the same time ushering in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy technologies to the world.
The bottom line: China is not there yet, but it is beginning to transition to a clean-energy economy through a wide range of actions. The United States should recognize China’s efforts and encourage China to expand upon them. We have sketched this claim before, but let’s run though the numbers in more detail. Read the full story
It seemed too good to be true. I had barely completed my own “3 trillion reasons” dance when I receive an email with a link to this Wall Street Journal report which suggested to me that the Chinese government had read and taken to heart the policy prescription of my solar policy article. WSJ said:
China said it will introduce a preferential tariff it will pay energy companies that use solar power for their generating capacity, as part of the government’s push for greater use of clean technology.
The preferential tariff — the price that China’s two state-owned electricity transmission and distribution companies will pay energy companies for their solar power — aims to make solar power competitive against traditional fuels, such as coal, which accounts for two-thirds of China’s electricity.
Shi Lishan, vice director of the National Energy Administration’s Renewable Energy Department, said the tariff will be 1.09 yuan (16 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for solar power that is supplied to the grid. Coal-fired power generation needs a tariff of just 0.3 yuan per kWh to be profitable.
For a moment, I was in solar heaven. But alas, all that glitters is not gold! Read the full story
…and we’re back! Apologies of the prolonged dormancy, but yours truly has been busy lately transitioning to his new day job. But no time to waste! Let’s pick things up really quickly with some solar updates.
First, my solar policy paper, Getting out of the Shade: Solar Energy as National Security Energy, which we summarized before in a previous post, has now been published in three parts on China Dialogue. While the content remains the same, what’s new is that an Chinese version is now available.
There is an extra bit of text that is new in this edition that is worth noting:
[Encouragingly, since the first publication of this article, China has begun its journey out of the shade: China's Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has launched a solar roofs programme to subsidise qualifying PV systems at 20 yuan (US$3) per watt, while some provinces, particularly Jiangsu, are poised to offer significant financial incentives to increase local capacity in PV manufacturing and deployment.]
And what a surge in domestic solar projects there has been in response! Many of the new projects were tracked on a previous post Much Ado About Solar, and so we have a continuation of more solar activity announced since that post: Read the full story