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The authors suggest that China's renewable energy system, the largest in the world, will quickly supersede the black energy system that has powered the country's rapid rise as workshop of the world and for reasons that have more to do with fixing environmental pollution and enhancing energy security than with curbing carbon emissions.



1. Introduction

China’s renewable energy revolution is a work in progress where the building of the world’s largest manufacturing system is based on the world’s largest energy system created, as in the case of previous industrial powers, from reliance on fossil fuels. But China is reaching the limits of such a system, in terms of environmental pollution and energy/resource security, and so is embarked on a serious and sustained creation of a complementary system based on power generation from water, wind and sun, plus some continuing adherence to nuclear power. China’s investments in its green energy system dwarf those of other countries. China’s renewable energy revolution may be framed as the world’s first case of a country breaking free of carbon lock-in by building its own renewable energy industries — ‘building energy security through manufacturing’.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

2. Major Trends in China’s Energy Revolution

China’s energy system is demonstrably greening at the margins. This is revealed through analysis of the relative proportions between renewable energy sources and fossil fuels as well as nuclear power. The industrial dynamics of the overall transition to a clean energy system are driven by concerns to reduce pollution levels and enhance energy security. In China’s energy revolution, the scale of production drives down costs and expands the market, in a process of circular and cumulative causation. China’s distinctive approach lies in its promoting its energy revolution through industrial strategy and five year plans, with well-formulated targets and their shaping of investment strategies. China’s energy revolution not only involves building new renewable industries but also tackling the challenge of reducing energy consumption in key energy-intensive industries.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

3. China’s Energy Producing and Using Industries — Industrial Dynamics

China’s energy revolution can be traced through the industrial dynamics operating in specific sectors, encompassing fossil fuels and non-fossil fuels. Having built the world’s largest coal industry China now faces the challenge of winding it down. In terms of oil and gas it is a matter of expanding to secure access to sources around the world. The principal achievements are the creation of new industries based on wind, solar photovoltaic and now a series of new technologies such as those based on light-emitting diodes, energy storage and electric vehicles. Much policy initiative is focused on building these new industries, as well as on reducing high levels of energy consumption (and carbon emissions) in key energy-intensive industries such as steel and cement.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

4. Transformation of the Electric Power Sector — Creating a 21st Century Infrastructure

The electric power sector is the industry that is one of the highest energy producers, highest energy consumers and highest carbon emitters in China. So this is where the energy revolution has to start. The transformation of the grid is a national infrastructure project, creating a ‘strong and smart’ grid as well as complementary projects such as the high-speed rail programme, where China is now the world leader in energy-efficient intercity transport. China’s efforts to move to the technological frontier are clear, as can be demonstrated through analysis of patents, standards and public expenditure on the modernizing electric power grid. Efforts to improve energy efficiency, such as in thermal power stations, are also an important part of the process.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

5. China’s Energy Firms: New Dragon Multinationals

This chapter takes the analysis to the meso- and micro-level, where the role of firms in driving the China energy revolution is assessed. Typical latecomer strategies are appealed to in describing and analysing the approaches of the firms involved in the various energy sectors. Insofar as the firms succeed in becoming global players they are assessed as ‘Dragon Multinationals’ with distinctive approaches to implementing and accelerating their internationalization. Case studies of wind power firms such as Goldwind and MingYang; solar PV firms such as Trina Solar and Hanergy; and grid companies such as China State Grid Corporation reveal the rapid evolution of the latecomer strategies that have propelled companies to world leadership.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

6. Global Impact of China’s Energy Revolution

China’s energy revolution has an impact not just in China but around the world. The most immediate impact is in drastically reducing costs for producing renewable power; these cost reductions, following technology-specific learning curves, drive uptake of renewables in China as well as in other countries. Renewables are coming to be an energy choice for developing countries everywhere, enhancing energy security and reducing carbon emissions. China’s energy consumption is also generating the world’s highest aggregate levels of carbon emissions, which are increasingly viewed as a global issue to whose solution China will also have to make its contribution. At the same time China’s approach to ensuring its energy security through manufacturing is likely to become a model for other industrializing countries.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

7. Concluding Remarks

China is building a 21st century infrastructure based on electric power (industrial power, high speed rail) that is increasingly sourced from renewables, and is likely therefore to emerge as world leader in all the associated products and technologies involved — just as the United States emerged as world leader of oil-based industries and technologies in the 20th century, and Britain and Germany had emerged as world leaders of coal-based technologies in the 19th century. There are clear implications for international political economy in such an analysis. China may be viewed as the world’s first country to be liberated from the constraints of fossil fuel dependence, and as such the creator of a new energy paradigm with epochal implications.

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan


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