Green China

'China speed' in clean energy business

Updated: 2009-12-13 17:10
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BEIJING: In the last several decades, Chinese people have become known for their speed and efficiency to develop things. When they rush to clean-energy business opportunities, the phenomenal growth of related industries lives up to the often-cited term "China Speed".

During the last few years, China has taken "huge strides forward" in renewable energy, as UK energy and climate secretary Ed Miliband put it, according to the British daily Financial Times (FT).

This certainly lends some confidence to China's representatives at the ongoing Copenhagen climate summit, though their country is one of the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide.

-- Within the last six years, China jumped to become the world's largest producer of solar energy panels, or solar photovoltaic (PV). Last year, China manufactured over 2,000 megawatts of solar PVs, accounting for more than 30 percent of global production. But in 2003, China's share was merely one percent.

-- At the end of last year, China also had more than 130 million square meters of solar water heaters, accounting for 76 percent of the world's total.

-- Within the last six years, China's installed wind power capacity jumped to 12,170 MWs at the end of 2008, from 470 MWs at the end of 2002. Its annual wind turbine manufacturing capacity soared to 10,000 MWs from less than 100 MWs in 2003.

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-- Within the last six years, China's once-unknown automaker BYD emerged from global electric car map. It is the world's second-biggest producer of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, backed by US billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

These figures look pretty nice. No wonder the FT reported on November 3 that China "has played climate cards beautifully," which was written by its Beijing chief correspondent Geoff Dyer.

On the same day, Dyer's colleague and FT's environment reporter in Beijing Fiona Harvey, while chairing a panel discussion of solar power, asked panelists: China took the lead in the solar power industry within just five or six years, why?

Gao Jifan, Chairman and CEO of the Nasdaq-listed Trina Solar, one of China's largest solar module manufacturers, gave her his answer -- survival pressure.

Gao said China had to import the essential raw material polysilicon at high prices for solar PV manufacturing, which forced Chinese companies like Trina Solar to quickly improve technological skills to lower cost.

By now, manufacturing skills among Chinese companies were as good as those western counterparts, if not better, Gao told the panel.

Huang Min, president of Himin Solar Energy, the world's largest maker of solar water heaters, said it was the strong desire to develop and business sensitivity that had been driving Chinese to quickly seize low-carbon business opportunities since they had been poor for decades before reform and opening-up in 1978.

"Certainly I have the desire, and I want to develop (and get rich). I don't think we are inferior to foreigners," he told Xinhua.

Last year, his company sold 3 million square meters of solar panels, more than double of the US, according to Himin Solar Energy. "Should the Americans be able to sell so many heaters each year, President Barack Obama would be extraordinarily happy."

Huang insisted his success didn't have much to do with Chinese policies since the government offered no preferential measures for the sales of solar water heaters.

The 51-year-old energetic businessman, however, said the reform and opening-up has indeed created good atmosphere and play field for entrepreneurs.

In the wind energy sector, things seem to be different. Both secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council Steve Sawyer and vice-president of the China Wind Energy Association Shi Pengfei saw government's encouragement as the main driver behind the expansion of wind energy.

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