Science

How China Is Conquering Renewable Energy

By Zach White , Apr 05, 2013 01:17 PM EDT
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Despite the American mindset that the United States is number one in all things forever, it looks like China might soon become not only the largest manufacturer of renewable energy technology in the world, but the biggest consumer as well.

China invested $68 billion in renewable energy projects last year, and has pledged to add 49 GW of capacity this year, with projections of further growth through next year with projects totaling 700 GW by 2020.

However, analysts are skeptical whether those goals will be met.

Tom Doyle, CEO of one of the largest solar companies in the U.S., NRG Solar, has said that the Chinese set some bad precedents, constantly renegotiating and being generally unreliable.

Doyle isn’t sure the projects are actually motivated by a desire to use renewable energy.

“I believe the government has set the mandate to support the growth of Chinese equipment suppliers,” Doyle said, according to Quartz. “Historically, it’s been a difficult market and I have some concerns frankly about placing NRG equity in the Chinese market.”

Chinese manufacturers need the help. Many were started several years ago, but with several consecutive years of massive drops in the cost of photovoltaic solar panels, it is getting harder to pull in a profit. When added to the fact that recent legislation in the U.S. has raised the price of importing Chinese solar panels, with similar talks in Europe, trouble seems to loom for Chinese renewable technology makers, which is why the Chinese government is taking such drastic steps.

Though preference obviously goes to Chinese companies and financiers, some are still excited by the profit potential behind installing increasingly cheap solar panels with steadily cheap Chinese manual labor.

Folks like Doyle, however, are more excited about the prospects in energy development in locations with a track record of western-friendly collaboration, like Saudi Arabia.

“I think from a risk perspective, Saudi Arabia is extremely attractive,” Doyle said. “I believe the Saudis are actually going to walk the walk when it comes to making good on their targets.”

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