In 2006, China passed the United States as the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases; last year it exceeded U.S. investment in clean energy for the first time, with a total of $34.6 billion. Driving that investment are air pollution, which has reached choking levels in Chinese cities, and a strong desire to meet a voracious appetite for energy through domestic sources. Not only is the country adding nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar power at an unrivaled pace, but it’s fast becoming a proving ground for next-generation energy technologies that have stalled elsewhere.
China has 22 nuclear reactors under construction, with a combined capacity of 23 gigawatts. Two-thirds of these, including this one at Fuqing on China’s southeastern coast, use a homegrown design based on France’s existing light-water reactors. Li Ganjie, director of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration, recently warned that “overrapid expansions” could diminish reactor quality and safety.
A massive and controversial hydropower buildout is under way in western China. The Jinanqiao hydroelectric dam, nearing completion, is one of a dozen installed or under construction on the Jinsha River. These dams were conceived partly as a trap to keep the “golden sands” for which the Jinsha is named from silting up the world’s largest hydropower plant, the Three Gorges Dam, which sits downstream on the Yangtze.
China is now building lines carrying direct current at 800 kilovolts and alternating current at 1,000 kilovolts–both world firsts–to pump that power to cities and manufacturing hubs in the east. ABB and Siemens provided the components–such as the toroids, which smooth out power blips. Plans call for a total of nine 800-kilovolt lines in China by 2020 and some $300 billion worth of grid upgrades through 2015.
The angled protrusions seen atop buildings in Fuyang City are solar collectors, a technology that provides hot water for about one in 10 Chinese residents. The Chinese government predicts that at least 150 million square meters of the heat-absorbing glass vacuum tubes will adorn rooftops by the end of this year.
Himin Solar Energy is China’s largest manufacturer of these tubes. China also boasts the world’s largest manufacturer of crystalline silicon photovoltaics: Wuxi-based Suntech Power. Recently approved subsidies are stimulating the country’s first utility-scale solar-power projects.
In February, Beijing-based Sinovel Wind erected a 34th wind turbine beside Shanghai’s 32.5-kilometer Donghai Bridge, completing the first offshore ¬wind farm outside Europe. The three-megawatt turbines will generate enough power altogether to meet the needs of more than 200,000 Shanghai households, according to the company. China has doubled its installed wind-power capacity every year for the past five years, and last year it supplanted the United States as the world’s largest market for wind power.
Coal still meets 70 percent of China’s energy needs, but the country claims to have shut down 60 gigawatts’ worth of inefficient coal-fired plants since 2005. Among them is the one shown above, which was demolished in Henan province last year. China is also poised to take the lead in deploying carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on a large scale. The gasifiers that China uses to turn coal into chemicals and fuel emit a pure stream of carbon dioxide that is cheap to capture, providing “an excellent opportunity to move CCS forward globally,” says Sarah Forbes of the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC.
Shenhua Group, China’s top coal producer, hopes to launch the country’s first carbon storage project this year at its 24,000-¬barrel-per-day synthetic-diesel plant in Inner Mongolia.