China attracted $54.2 billion in clean energy investments in 2013 last year, besting the United States, the world’s second-largest clean energy market, by a substantial margin. In 2013, the US attracted $36.7 billion in clean energy investments.
New investments will continue China’s rapid embrace of renewable energy sources. China installed more solar capacity last year (12.1 GW) than in all previous years combined. The remarkable increase of solar power broke the previous record for solar capacity installations in one year, which previously stood at 8 GW.
Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF, said:
The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken. PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.
By building up its renewable infrastructure, China has managed to maintain high levels of growth while simultaneously cutting emissions. Between 2005 and 2013, China’s average growth rate has been above eight percent, but the country has managed to decrease emissions by 28.5 percent compared with 2005 levels.
Increasing renewable generation is just part of the country’s strategy to decrease emissions and clean up the air—an essential step if China is to escape unrest among the country’s growing middle class. Air pollution from coal-fired plants kills approximately 250,000 people each year in China.
Beijing is well aware of the need to act swiftly and decisively, as evidenced by the recent remarks of Premier Li Keqiang. At the pair of annual meetings known as ‘Lianghui’ that took place last month, Li called pollution “nature’s red-light warning” against “inefficient and blind development,” and vowed to pursue polluters with “an iron fist.”
In an effort to clean up its act with regards both to air pollution and CO2 emissions, China announced late last week that it will shut down 1,725 small-scale coal mines that have a combined capacity of 117.48 million tons.
The move is part of an effort by Beijing to phase out low-quality coal from their reserves and to relocate coal production from the eastern half of the country to the more remote northwest.
Reuters is also reporting that local governments are under new orders to gradually shut down coal illegal coal mines, those that do not comply with safety regulations, and those producing less that 90,000 tons of coal per year.
Despite the recent changes, China remains the world’s largest polluter, having surpassed the United States as the number one emitter of CO2 in 2006. While China aims to reduce coal-derived power to below 65 percent of its energy mix by the end of the year, even more dramatic cuts than that are needed to mitigate the air pollution crisis and meaningfully address climate change.