China's renewables pledge depends on industry investment

China’s powerful energy watchdog has launched a 2 trillion yuan ($266 billion) plan that sets out how the country will achieve its target of getting 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The National Development and Reform Commission estimates the move will create 2 million jobs but expects the lion’s share of the money to come from industry.

Currently, renewables account for under 7.5 per cent of China’s energy supplies while 70 per cent comes from coal. If the country - the world’s second-largest carbon dioxide emitter - hits its 2010 target, it will emit 600 million tons less carbon dioxide a year than it would based on current projections. By 2020, that figure would be 1.2 billion tons.

Annual hydropower generation capacity is projected to increase from 170 million kilowatts in 2005 to 300 million kilowatts in 2020, the output of plant-based ethanol from 1.02 million tons to 10 million tons, and wind power generating capacity from 1.26 million kilowatts to 30 million kilowatts.

The renewable energy plan also calls for the development of China’s own technologies and infrastructure to meet its renewable energy goals. Local authorities should set up funds to subsidise renewables, the plan says, and it also promises corporate income tax breaks for companies developing the technology.

According to Zhang Boting, secretary general of Chinese Society of Hydropower, the country is currently too reliant on technology shipped in from abroad. ’I think part of the reason for the slow development of renewable energies in China is the imported wind generators and photovoltaic cells necessary for solar energies have made their costs too high,’ he said.

The policies laid out in the plan will make it easier for Chinese energy equipment manufacturers to catch up with their Western counterparts, Zhang told Chemistry World.

Chen Ying, deputy director of the Sustainable Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says while many of the goals set in the development plan have been announced before, the document as a whole will pave the way for better policies and economic incentives for renewables.

Zhou Bin, general manager of bio-diesel producer Beijing FaitH Oil New Tech, also welcomed the plan. ’This will help improve the overall business environment,’ he told Chemistry World.

Hepeng Jia