Countries around the world have remained steadfast in their commitment to reducing carbon emissions and the two most populated countries are leading by example. India and China have long been some of the highest polluting states however they are now using the wealth that they have created in recent years to invest in sustainable growth. Specifically these countries have decided to become world leaders in renewable energy generation and new statistics out in the last few weeks indicate how seriously India and China are taking the transition to clean electricity.
According to a report from Mercom India, the country added 4.8 GW of solar capacity in the first half of 2017. The statistics out from Mercom show that 1.869 GW of solar power was added in the second quarter of 2017, of which 1.639 GW was large-scale installations like solar farms and solar-thermal plants and 0.230 GW was through rooftop installations. These figures are important to consider when the total solar capacity that was installed in India in the entirety of 2016 was 4.313 GW.
Going forward, Indian solar growth will go in one of two directions. Firstly, the increasingly cheap ability to manufacture solar panels may spur upper and middle class Indians to begin investing in the technology for their own homes. The second and more likely source of growth will be from energy companies building large capacity solar power stations. The reason I believe the latter to be more likely is that these types of projects have already been commissioned across India, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. These three states are at the forefront of large-scale solar projects and whilst I would prefer a more decentralised power grid, such developments are infinitely better than more coal-fired power stations being constructed.
In regards to wind power India is also making significant steps forward. Back in April, figures showed that India had added 5.4 GW of wind power capacity in 2016-17, taking the wind power percentage of India’s renewable energy generation capacity up to 55%. This achievement massively exceeded the country’s targeted 4.0 GW of added wind power capacity for the year. Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have positioned themselves as leaders in this sector but with technologies coming down in cost, including for large-scale offshore wind farms, it is possible that southern states with long coastlines will become India’s leading source of wind power.
When it comes to China the solar news out of the country is even more promising than that emanating from India. According to Clean Technica 24.4 GW of solar power installed in first half of 2017. The report states that analysts from the Asia Europe Clean Energy Advisory (AECEA) fully expect China to surpass the 34.2 GW of solar capacity installed in the whole of 2016. This expectation is because there are currently 14 concentrated solar power plants under construction in China, which will collectively generate 0.47 GW, with many of these projects demonstration plants that will be expanded later. China is also investing in record breaking solar PV projects like the Ningxia Solar Project which will generate 2 GW of electricity alone. Economies of scale for rooftop solar are resulting in many businesses opting for the technology to bring down their own overheads. All these steps forward have placed China as the current world leader in solar technology.
However the solar figures from China are especially impressive when they are compared to growth in other economic powerhouses. China has installed 24.4 GW in the first half of this year but compare this to the United States where the total installed solar PV capacity is 52.8 GW. If the AECEA analysts are correct that China will surpass the 34.2 GW of added capacity this year, then China would have added more solar power capacity in the last two years than the United States has ever cumulatively added. Although the United States is more federalised than China, and Washington DC has comparably less power in the states than Beijing does across the country, the fact remains that the United States should be investing so much more in renewable energy than they currently are.
Wind power is also taking off in China. The country is now the largest producer of electricity from wind power and this is exemplified by the construction of the Gansu Wind Farm. The farm began construction in 2009 and by 2020 will produce 20 GW of electricity. Although the wind turbines that have been built in China are less efficient than those in places like the US, technological advancements in this field in recent years are closing this gap.
When it comes to renewable energy, the continued progress out of India and China is a crumb of comfort for those of us living in the West under governments who are acting much more slowly. Although these two massive economies have made significant progress in recent years, indeed in some cases greater progress than predicted, there is still a long way to go if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change. China and India will continue to embrace environmentally friendly technology for a variety of different reasons, the lingering question is regarding the speed of adoption of these energy sources.
The Green Climate Fund that was established by the Paris Agreement is an instrument that should be hugely invested in to build renewable energy projects around the world. If the world is to defeat the climate crisis then the richest nation-states need to step up the pace of their transition to green energy. The climate denial of the US federal government is also not an excuse to delay action as individual states could invest in the Green Climate Fund and/or increasing their renewable energy capacity. California is leading the way when it comes to renewable energy but wealthier states like New York and Illinois are being left behind when they should be taking a much bolder stand.