China is rising fast from zero to hero in the field of renewable energy. In 25 years, it went from having practically zero solar modules to becoming the largest PV market in the world.
The country boasts numerous solar farms of incredible sizes and is home to a mammoth of a solar facility in the Tengger Desert, which is the largest photovoltaic installation in the world.
China is also the biggest investor in renewable energy, which accounts for 45% of the total investment in the world. The sizable investments can generate jobs in various stages of the renewable energy supply chain. China has proven that fighting climate change and boosting economic growth can complement each other as experts such as Vinod Thomas have suggested, who was a senior vice president at the World Bank Group and is now a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.
Wood Mackenzie estimates that China’s cumulative installed capacity will reach a whopping 370 GWdc by 2024, which is twice the capacity of the US estimated at the same point in time.
Why renewable energy can transform power relations
Renewable energy has a huge influence on geopolitics. The leading countries in the renewables will hold sway in the geopolitics of their regions, according to A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation, the new report from IRENA. There are lots of qualities which could determine a country’s relative position in the international system. Having energy resources and markets could greatly boost a country’s position and strength because the country can protect one of its national resources of utmost importance at home. This ability also enables them to have considerable economic and political leverage to influence other countries.
Having risen to the top in the clean energy race, China has a lot to gain from the energy transformation. It can protect its crucial resources at home as well as become more energy self-reliant. Backed by the inexhaustible renewable energy, China can counter the disadvantages of fossil fuel, such as supply disruption and price volatility.
As more and more countries are embracing green energy and moving away from fossil fuels, China’s position as the global powerhouse of the renewables in terms of manufacturing, innovation, and deployment can translate into significant influence abroad.
China’s growing presence in Southeast Asia
According to Professor Overland, head of the Center for Energy Research at the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, China’s ascendancy to the engine of the solar energy industry has increased its influence in Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian countries not only are importing more modules from China but also rely on the Chinese in the engineering, financing and construction aspects of the projects.
Southeast Asia’s energy reliance on China is beneficial to the latter’s trade balance as well as its influence in the region. However, China’s growing influence may not be entirely welcomed in the region, on account of the deep-rooted anti-Chinese sentiments in Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia is not the only one benefiting from China’s photovoltaic forte. Japan’s Panasonic is also partnering up with China’s GS solar to further develop the heterojunction photovoltaic technologies. The academic also suggested that the possibility of the China-EU cooperation should not be ruled out, as both parties have taken concrete measures to combat climate change.
China is in the lead of the clean energy race now. However, according to Professor Overland, whether or not it can continue its reign depends on the scientists who are the engines of innovation. And there are a lot of Chinese scientists that have no qualms about working in the U.S. However, the same cannot be said about American scientists working in China. Therefore the scientists’ confidence in the ideological and sociopolitical systems of China and the U.S. will determine the success and scientific advancement of the country, where they choose to reside in.
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