For almost two decades, China has invested considerably in renewable energy development and has long been considered a world leader. However, a report published last week demonstrates just how far ahead they really are.
Research by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), an independent research group, has found that China is set to double its renewable energy capacity and produce 1200 gigawatts (GW) of energy through wind and solar power by 2025, reaching its 2030 goal five years ahead of time. The report finds that China’s solar capacity has reached 228GW, more than that of the rest of the world combined. Meanwhile, China’s combined onshore and offshore wind capacity now surpasses 310GW, double its 2017 level and roughly equivalent to the next top seven countries combined. With plans to address the volatile nature of renewable energy and thereby secure energy supply, it is looking likely that China will entrench its leadership position in the solar industry.
As if hosting nearly half of the world’s operating solar and wind capacity wasn’t enough, China also dominates the renewable technology market, manufacturing an incredible 80% of all the solar panels produced globally. In fact, China dominates every single stage of solar technology production, producing 85% of the global supply of solar cells, 88% of solar-grade polysilicon, and 97% of the silicon ingots and wafers that form the core of solar cells.
The consequences of Chinese dominance in the sector, both for the climate and for geopolitics, are far from insignificant. The country’s progress to date, not to mention their ambitious and innovative projects, could help to lower the cost of electricity and support the global transition to renewable energy. However, this would entail Western governments becoming reliant on a state with whom there are unique diplomatic complexities for their energy provision. Given recent events in Ukraine, this doesn't feel like a feasible solution.
Perhaps then we should use this report and its explicit demonstration of China’s hegemony in renewable energy, as a much needed wake up call. Both the US and the EU have introduced legislation to undermine Sino dominance in clean energy, pouring hundreds of billions into subsidies for domestic manufacturers. However the scale, urgency and complexity of the problem requires much more than reactive legislation.
If we are to tackle something as devastating as the climate crisis whilst managing the risk of over-reliance on China, Western governments must commit themselves seriously to Net Zero targets. We must speed up the development of renewable energy products, invest in critical mineral supply chains and form “green trade alliances” with friendly nations which share our climate ambitions. Note to Rishi Sunak, this does *not* include dropping out of the UK’s flagship £11.6bn climate and nature funding pledge.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the world once again last week of the need for a collective response to the climate crisis, stating “it is time to wake up and step up. It is time to accelerate the just transition to a green economy." Let’s hope that Western nations listen this time.