At the risk of overtaxing the reader’s appetite for figures, it is worth spelling out the enormity of what China is doing. The China Electricity Council says the country will add 210 GW of solar this year, twice the entire solar capacity installed in the US to date.
It is not going to stop there. Carbon Brief says China’s output of solar panels was 310 GW in 2022; it will be 500 GW in 2023; and 1000 GW in 2025 – four times the total installation of new solar worldwide last year.
China is undoubtedly getting over its skis. The grid cannot yet absorb so much renewable power. Curtailment is a chronic problem. But it is equally obvious that China will not let that stand in the way. The grid will catch up.
The ramp up of battery capacity is even steeper: 550 GWh in 2022; 800 GWh in 2023, and 3,000 in 2025. That will alleviate the shorter end of intermittency.
The point to remember about Xi is that he was green long before it became fashionable. He wrote a weekly column twenty years ago as Zhejiang party chief warning that China’s “energy-intensive and high-polluting” economic model was unsustainable.
He defied the orthodoxy of break-neck industrialisation and GDP worship, launching a radical ‘Green GDP’ programme in Zhejiang in 2004. It called on local governments to subtract ecological damage from the raw GDP figures.
He was defeated by vested interests, one reason why he has been careful not to force a showdown too soon with China’s powerful coal lobby. He is circumventing them instead by giving renewable companies priority access to cheap credit from the state-controlled banks.
The brains behind the Green GDP movement was Xie Zhenhua, today China’s climate negotiator and the man who paved the way for the Paris climate accord.
He helped Xi overcome entrenched opposition from China’s old guard by using a Kuznets Curve to show that a country’s CO2 emissions peak and decline naturally as it develops, and therefore that climate ‘concessions’ would not restrain China’s development.
This led to Xi’s Yingtai evening chat with Barack Obama, and the deal that made Paris possible.