The phrase Chinese solar farm is something that many environmentalists never expected to here. There is now a massive development in Longyangxia and more on the way. The farm sit behind a big poster of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping with the slogan “Promote green development! Develop clean energy!”
It is an impressive 27sqkm solar farm that signals a significant change in attitudes in China. They want to help the fight against global warming after decades of bad decisions, emissions and refusals to sign treaties.
The question is, why now? What has to trigger this new change in attitude and such a bold exclamation of promotion and development? Is it money, environmental pressure, Trump or something else?
This new solar farm is a big step forward for China, who once turned their backs entirely on the prospect.
There was a time when solar wasn’t much of a concern for the Chinese. Many viewed it as an expensive alternative to modern technology that wasn’t worth the effort. There were far better opportunities out there for the domestic market.
This former viewpoint was loudly expressed as recently as 2012. Today attitudes are much different. The country is the leading clean energy investor and has high hopes for its emissions goal. The aim is to produce 110GW of solar power and 210GW of wind power by 2020.
Furthermore, they pledge to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources by 20% by 2030. It may not quite be on the level of somewhere like Denmark. But, relatively speaking, it is quite the change.
There is also the pledge of $360bn to spend on renewable energy by 2020. This is all impressive when we consider that wind made up just 4% of China’s electricity supply last year, and solar trailed behind at 1%.
Some see this as an attempt to put China out there as the world leader on climate change action. Something that is timely with recent American developments.
There is a natural comparison to make here to America’s situation and attitudes to the issues of global warming and emission. It has only grown with the US’s current situation with President Trump. How much of this new attitude is about beating Trump and America, rather than beating global warming?
The chances are that this is a significant influence. As much as officials shrug off the views of the President as nonsense, they are still paying attention. But, campaigners and activists are sure to let this rivalry go if it gets China closer to the right outcome.
Politics is just one influence of many that could be responsible for this change in China.
Of course, this is not the only turning point here. Attitudes to climate change and the environment are changing in China. There is no doubt in the minds of many that climate change is real and visible before their very eyes.
The effects of emissions and population are devastating lives on an apparent level. Therefore, it is no surprise that they mock the climate change deniers in the Whitehouse. People are sick of China’s past reputation and the same old problems without a solution.
All those in the major cities, especially Beijing, have grown tied of the smog that descends upon them, causing illness and distress.
The issue of climate change and solar farm creation in China is keenly felt across the generations too. Some see eco-activism as a young man’s game in China, but this isn’t strictly true. The younger generation wants a nation that cares for the environment.
They are now involved in an increase in environmental activity, such as bans on shark fin imports and a shift in attitudes to Chinese medicine. The older generation, meanwhile, looks fondly on memories of what China was like in their youth. They remember the cold winters and snow and regret that it doesn’t happen anymore.
Then, as is often the case, there is the financial angle to consider here too.
Some believe that economics are the driven force here – rather than environmental concerns or political one-upmanship. At the core of this solar farms are dollar signs and the promise of contracts. Solar power generation and solar panel creation is a financially viable plan here.
China has shown interest in investment opportunities for the export of green tech. This occurred with high-speed rail, solar panel, and electric vehicles contracts with developing countries across Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.
The problem here is that some people see the negative financial implications here too. There is no perfect plan in place and no guarantee that everyone will benefit from the switch. Many believe that the new clean industry firms in China will not be able to provide sufficient jobs. It is particularly the case when we consider the workforce was losing their jobs with the decline of fossil fuel generation.
There is no doubt that whatever the reasons behind this dramatic switch, these solar farm developments will be impressive.
China is not a country to do things by halves when it comes to important initiatives. If they are going to back solar, they are going to back it hard. Therefore, the Longyangxia venture is set to be an enormous powerhouse with significant implications.
It already has the capacity for 850mw of green energy. It should be enough to supply as many as 200,000 households in the region. If that was not enough, officials now say that two more of these giant solar farms are on the way for the Tibetan plateau. The aim here is to produce 4gw of power.
The puzzle of the sudden love of solar farms in China is one with plenty of pieces – and they don’t all fit correctly. There are clearly many factors at play here. We have the political issues in a nation that would like to beat America and highlight their weakness in green issues.
We have the social issues of a country tied off the impact that carbon emission has had in their countries. We also have the economics implications of a large solar industry with all that green power. Either way, this has to be good news for a country slowing catching up with worldviews on the environment.