China Revs Up Renewable Energy Goals

China’s shooting for renewables to provide 9.5% of its energy by 2015, with higher targets for wind, hydro and solar.

Clean energy investment in China, which reached $35 billion in 2009, is already higher than in any other country in the world, and its installed renewable energy capacity surpassed that of the US by 2010.

Now, with the publication of China’s 12th Five Year Plan for Renewable Energy Development, the country signaled its intention to dramatically ramp up its use of renewables.

The goals of the plan are revolutionary.

China plans to increase its reliance on renewables to 9.5% of its total energy consumption by 2015. Its long-range goal is to catch up to the US, where clean energy accounted for 8% of consumption in 2010 and could reach 15% by 2015.

China is already a world leader in wind generation, so much so that there are more wind farms than the transmission grid can handle. The plan raises the bar substantially growing wind capacity, currently at 13.9 GW, to 100 GW.

The plan calls for moderate growth in hydropower as well, from 210 GW to 290 GW. And for the first time, China set targets for geothermal, tidal, and ocean energies.

But the big story in the plan is solar.

At present, China has 700 MW of installed solar capacity and trails the US, with 2.6 GW, by a substantial amount.

But by 2015, China wants to have 10 GW of installed solar capacity. And by 2020, it’s target is 50 GW.

The plan also addresses problems associated with power transmission: while most of China’s power is generated in the west, its major population centers are in the south and east.

China plans to overcome this problem by encouraging smaller-scale distributed solar projects in its more densely populated regions. The plan also encourages small and medium enterprises to enter the market, as the large state-owned enterprises are less interested in smaller projects.

Also supporting accelerated solar development is China’s announcement last month that it will introduce a national solar feed-in tariff (FiT). The introduction of the FiT should make China, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels, one of the largest buyers of solar panels as well.

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