Bloomberg was taking some time this Friday to analyze and put into context the climate commitment by the Chinese government in getting an environmental agreement with the US.
The numbers are staggering, and while the energy mix will arguably still be an energy mix, even in the green areas, the numbers are still awesome. 67x more nuclear energy to meet non-fossil requirements, or 30x more solar, or why not 9x more wind energy by 2030? The country is already the globally biggest producer of the latter two types of energy! I don’t know if they can count hydro-power to this mix, but that is probably where a substantial early-start part of the gains are going to be at. After all, as the article states, clean energy source capacity increases need to match Spain’s total output, every year for 16 years!
Still, the energy needs are massive, and energy consumption is expected to increase from today’s level by half around 2020, and double by 2030 (which is arguably a much slower pace from 2020 to 2030 than from 2014 to 2020). Talking in 25-year investment needs for upgrading its power generation that rivals Japan’s current GDP is impressive data indeed, and probably means that the future for a more affordable clean technology paradigm is the best way going forwards – both to make a difference in the world and to make a handy profit! The article language, talking in terms of “revolution”, “great leap” or calling to mind Mao Zedong policies, is less than productive in this context. Just gotta throw a jab in there to get most of your readers to pay attention above the rate they give your normal drivel, Bloomberg? See, it’s a relatively easy game but not productive in the least!
I do think that a large part of the jigsaw puzzle of meeting China’s renewable energy goals will come down to going things a lot more effectively. China today has a notoriously low total factor productivity, and increasing this will probably help overall energy conservation. If China manages to increase how well it uses its energy (which is probably the expectation post-2020) there are obviously a lot of gains to be made. Better insulation, more and better infrastructure, smarter homes and offices for both heating and cooling and so on, will most likely help the Chinese economy going forwards. Sure it’s a bit of an initial investment, but looking at it from a resource use perspective it is simply eliminating pure inefficiencies and won’t really constrain the ability of energy-intensive production, while giving great health, environment and long-term financial gains. Saving on production or foregoing gains at this step of development is probably not likely, appreciated or likely to be beneficial in the long run. Make the financial gains and health gains substantial and relatable to a large number of people with drive to let them innovate and lead the country in environmental consciousness. After all, “Who envies the lonely path of the martyr?”
Can China become a global leader in environmentally friendly technology and efficiency gains in, say, the next 10 years, and then export said technology and know-how, thus connecting climate and the environment to China’s ambition to climb the value-added chain? It will take a lot of time to figure out, but time will tell. Before then, however, you should really read the Bloomberg article. It is amazing to feed those numbers into my imagination and think of the scale of industries and opportunities that need to be created between today and a Chinese future that is as green as the tea the tea they love to drink. (Please, no comments on black tea now…)