Floating solar farm reflects China’s clean energy aims

June 12, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 04:36 am IST - Beijing

40 MW structure with 1,60,000 panels rests on lake and is part of Beijing’s efforts to wean itself off fossil fuel dependency

Shining example:A view of the world's largest floating solar power plant in China's Anhui province.AFP

Shining example:A view of the world's largest floating solar power plant in China's Anhui province.AFP

As the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate pact, China’s clean energy ambitions were being reflected in the launch of the world’s largest floating solar farm.

The 40-megawatt power plant has 1,60,000 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.

China dominating

“The U.S.’ 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 said.

The Beijing forum also put a spotlight on efforts taken by 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 U.S. — in terms of investments” and innovation, Alex Perera, director of the WRI Energy Program, said.

It has been the world’s largest investor in clean energy since 2012, spending $88 billion on wind and solar power last year, according to Bloomberg News.

China’s solar capacity more than doubled in 2016. The official goal is for 20% of Chinese power consumption to come from low-emission energy, including nuclear, by 2030, compared to 11% currently.

“We must take these promises seriously,” said Helen Clarkson, President of the Climate Group.

Beijing hopes to combat endemic air pollution, but is also motivated by financial interests, as the country “is already reaping the economic benefits” of clean energy, Ms. Clarkson said.

Partnerships sought

With the U.S. administration out of the Paris pact, China has signalled its readiness to deal with U.S. 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 Trump’s June 2 decision, signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr. Xi as well as an agreement with Sichuan province.

‘Wake people up’

“I’m trying to wake people up to deal with climate change,” Mr. Brown said.

“China is an ally in that and it has tremendous resources and I want to work with those resources in a way that will accelerate our climate action,” he said.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, made it clear at the clean energy forum: “We will not only continue to strengthen cooperation with California, but also strengthen the concrete cooperation with other U.S. states, cities, enterprises and scientific research institutions in fields including clean energy.”

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