The rapid rise of the Chinese renewable energy sector

In a transformation that can be seen from space, a corner of the Far Western Chinese province of Qinghai has witnessed a remarkable transformation, neat blue-grey rectangles have steadily spread across the land to the point where they cover an area the size of Macau. Together these solar panels have created the world’s biggest solar facility, the Longyangxia Dam Solar Farm, which now creates 850 megawatts of energy, enough for 200,000 households.

With Trump at the helm and the US going backwards in its commitment to green energy, China has an opportunity to forge ahead and become the global leader in renewable energy technology. Already five of the world’s top six solar panel manufacturers are Chinese, as are five of the top ten wind turbine manufacturers.

That said the country itself remains heavily dependent on coal and other fossil fuels for its energy needs, to put it in perspective only 1% or 66.2 GW of its energy mix was met by solar power in 2016. However the country has a government set target to hit 20% of energy production from renewable sources by 2030 and HK$2.82 trillion will be ploughed into the sector to make this a reality.

The strength and reach of China’s renewable tech firms, along with the government’s realisation that it must cut greenhouse gases and improve the nation’s catastrophic air quality are both drivers in the race to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. China needs to meet international targets and keep a populace increasingly unhappy with the environment placated.

China has made major strides domestically in rolling out renewable energy technology, but its firms are now also beginning to make waves overseas, joining Chinese firms which are already leaders in sectors like natural resources, infrastructure and manufacturing. Now Chinese solar panel producers are beginning to export to both emerging and developed markets, and also to manufacture in other countries as the race to become the leader in renewable technology globally heats up.

In China leads the world in solar panel manufacturing and installation, the major producers are Trina, Yingli, China Sunergy  Jinniu Energy, Suntech Power, and Hanwha SolarOne , CHINT Group Corporation and JA Solar Holdings.

Similarly China is the largest manufacturer of Wind turbines since 2010, the market is dominated by Goldwind (19% market share), followed by Goudian (11% market share) and Mingyang (9% market share). Now these companies have also started to make their impact felt abroad.

Goldwind is headquartered in the far western region of Xinjiang, its wide open spaces are ideal for wind turbines. Goldwind took its postion as global leading in wind turbine production in 2015 overtaking Danish firm Vestas.

Trina Solar is a Jiangsu based firm which recently overtook Yingli as the world’s largest solar panel producer, the firm has global operations and was listed in the New York stock exchange but recently its shareholders voted for it go private as part of a merger with Red Solar. The company has grown rapidly to take the top spot, but now the pressure is on to maintain its explosive growth.

The State Grid Corporation of China is a obscure little known entity, but represents the world’s largest utility company with a staggering 1.9 million employees and revenues of US$330 billion a year comparable with tech giant Apple. With the Chinese government contemplating a shake up of the domestic market the State Grid are looking abroad to expand.

China Three Gorges Corporation are better known thanks to its construction of the world’s biggest hydro-electric facility, namely the Three Gorges Dam which produces 22.5 GW of power. The company has become a world leader in dam construction and now operates over 60 GW of energy production worldwide.

Tianqi Lithium is another less known firm, but that could be about to change as the global rise of electric cars continues. The batteries of electric cars look set to be dependent on lithium and Tianqi just happens to be the world’s biggest processer of Lithium ion thanks to the recent takeover of a Chilean firm.

The next article will look at how Chinese renewable energy firms are making a global impact with rapid expansion abroad.

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