China zooms ahead in renewable energy sector

Workers installing solar panels on a rooftop in Wuhan, China, last month. This week, China's National Energy Administration announced that it will plough 2.5 trillion yuan (S$518 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020, as it moves from trad
Workers installing solar panels on a rooftop in Wuhan, China, last month. This week, China's National Energy Administration announced that it will plough 2.5 trillion yuan (S$518 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020, as it moves from traditional coal power towards cleaner fuels.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Beijing inked record $46b in foreign investment deals last year

LONDON • China's aggressive move into renewable energy around the world has propelled it ahead of the pack, leaving major countries such as the United States, the UK and Australia behind in this booming market.

A new report by US-based think- tank Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows that China made a record US$32 billion (S$46 billion) in foreign investment deals last year alone, marking a 60 per cent year- on-year increase in spending.

China is already the biggest investor in domestic renewable energy, having pumped in US$103 billion in 2015, dwarfing the US' US$44 billion.

This week, its National Energy Administration announced that it will plough 2.5 trillion yuan (S$518 billion) into renewable power generation by 2020, as it moves from traditional coal power towards cleaner fuels.

"China understands that renewables present a huge business opportunity," said Mr Tim Buckley, lead author of the report and IEEFA's director of energy finance studies.

"Building on the staggering scale of its domestic growth in low-emissions energy, China is accelerating its commercial expansion overseas. As the US owned the advent of the gas age, so China is shaping up to be unrivalled in clean power leadership today. In years to come, the US may look back in regret."

Five of the world's six largest solar-module manufacturing firms last year are in China... It is also the largest wind-turbine and lithium ion manufacturer.

Five of the world's six largest solar-module manufacturing firms last year are in China, Mr Buckley pointed out. It is also the largest wind-turbine and lithium ion manufacturer.

Last year, it sealed billion-dollar deals for wind and solar farms in Australia; a lithium miner and pro- cessor in Chile; waste-to-energy development in Germany and others in Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Four of the five biggest renewable energy deals globally last year were by Chinese companies, a trend that will continue, said Mr Buckley.

The biggest deal was a takeover by China's State Grid Corporation of CPFL Energia, one of Brazil's biggest generators and distributors of renewable power, which is expected to amount to US$13 billion once completed.

"The change in leadership in the US is likely to widen China's global leadership in industries of the future, building China's dominance in these sectors in terms of technology, investment, manufacturing and employment," said Mr Buckley.

Mr Trump once famously tweeted that climate change was a hoax by China to undermine US competitiveness in manufacturing, and vowed to reverse the US' commitment to the Paris climate agreement to cut fossil fuel emissions.

If Mr Trump sticks to his campaign promise, the US will likely become less competitive economically, Mr Buckley predicted.

"The US is already slipping well behind China in the race to secure a larger share of the booming clean energy market. With the incoming administration talking up coal and gas, prospective domestic policy changes don't bode well," he said.

"If the US is serious about stimulating manufacturing-based growth, clean energy isn't a sector to turn away from."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'China zooms ahead in renewable energy sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe