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Is China destined to be the next green energy superpower?

China is investing billions of dollars into renewable energy production in an effort to combat their steeply rising greenhouse gas emissions. While the US is only just taking its first steps towards mandating power companies to generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already imposed such a requirement 2 years ago.

At present coal remains China’s biggest energy source, with at least one coal plant opening every week to meet the nation’s growing demand for power. However HSBC predicts that China will invest more money in renewable energy and nuclear power between now and 2020 than in coal-fired and oil-fired electricity.

An immediate example is the series of projects the country is currently constructing in the Gobi Desert. These include wind and solar plants – both of which are experiencing an unforeseen benefit from the world economic crisis – a significant reduction in the cost of materials needed for construction.

The projects, which are being built on the enormous scale we have come to expect from China’s infrastructure innovations in projects like the Three Gorges dam, “totally dwarf anything else, anywhere else in the world,” says Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels.

Mr. Li Junfeng – deputy director general for energy research at China’s top economic planning agency and Secretary General of the government-run Renewable Energy Industries Association – predicts that China will have 30,000 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2010 – a target they had hoped to reach by 2020.

Challenges for the Gobi Desert projects include resilience and weak infrastructure issues. For instance, sandstorms that obscure solar panels render them useless, and must be carefully cleaned off by workers with feather dusters to avoid scratching the delicate surfaces – a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that can take up to two days. Wind turbines are being built faster than China can augment its national grid by erecting power lines to carry the newly-generated electricity to cities at a variety of distances.

New legislation on emissions in the US, combined with BC’s already forward-looking carbon tax, will no doubt stimulate the new low-carbon economy and low-emissions technologies here in North America. ACT’s upcoming Energy session, scheduled to begin in September 2009, will consider new standards and solutions for BC’s energy sector in light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods rises.

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