Floating solar farm reflects China's clean energy hopes

BEIJING • As the United States withdrew from the Paris climate pact, China's clean energy ambitions were seen in the launch of the world's largest floating solar farm.

The 40MW power plant has 160,000 panels resting on a lake that emerged after the collapse of a coal mine in central Anhui province. It is part of Beijing's effort to wean itself off a fossil fuel dependency that has made it the world's top carbon emitter, with two-thirds of its electricity still fuelled by coal.

The solar facility went online around the time of President Donald Trump's much-criticised June 2 decision to withdraw from the international accord aimed at saving the planet from climate change catastrophe.

His move shifted the spotlight onto China and whether it will take on the leadership mantle in the fight against global warming. Days after his announcement - and by coincidence - Beijing hosted an international conference on clean energy.

It was an opportunity for China, which already produces two-thirds of the world's solar panels, to boast of its commitment to accelerating investment and reforms for greater use of renewable energies.

"The US' withdrawal from the Paris agreement offers China an unprecedented opportunity to take the lead in climate change," energy expert Frank Yu of Wood Mackenzie consultancy told AFP. The Beijing forum put the spotlight on efforts by the Chinese authorities and companies to develop renewable energy.

"Beijing may feel like it's dominating the game", especially because "China is already moving rapidly - with or without the US - in terms of investments" and innovation, said Mr Alex Perera, director of the WRI Energy Programme. China has been the world's largest investor in clean energy since 2012, spending US$88 billion (S$122 billion) on wind and solar power last year, according to Bloomberg News.

  • 2 of 3 Proportion of world's solar panels made in China.

    S$122b Amount spent on wind and solar power last year by China, the world's largest investor in clean energy since 2012.

    20% Percentage of power consumption to come from low-emission energy, including nuclear, by 2030, up from the current 11 per cent.

China's solar capacity more than doubled last year. The official goal is for 20 per cent of Chinese power consumption to come from low-emission energy, including nuclear, by 2030, compared with 11 per cent currently.

"We must take these promises seriously," said Ms Helen Clarkson, president of the Climate Group. Beijing hopes to combat endemic air pollution, but is also motivated by financial interests, as it "is already reaping the economic benefits" of clean energy, she added.

With the US administration out of the Paris pact, China has signalled its readiness to deal with US local governments to advance its climate agenda.

California Governor Jerry Brown used the Beijing conference to seek partnerships with China on climate change, and was given the red-carpet treatment by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr Brown, who has criticised Mr Trump's June 2 decision, signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr Xi as well as an agreement with Sichuan province.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Floating solar farm reflects China's clean energy hopes'. Subscribe