With the US pulling out of trade partnerships and climate agreements, China is slipping in seamlessly to not just take America’s place but eclipse them in the advancement of green technology.
In response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, China and the EU unified their already shared stance in a statement which reaffirmed their commitment to researching and implementing every measure possible to make the world carbon neutral. Leaders, academics and political commentators from all over the globe have been weighing in on the issue, including former presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders.
While Sanders’ is only one voice and one perspective on the issue, he reflects the sentiments of the popular majority. Trump’s defence of his action was that it was an electoral promise he was committed to following through on.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”US President, Donald Trump
Whether you agree with Trump’s move or not, what he did was create a gap which China was delighted to fill. And it was all particularly well timed with Chinese company, Sungrow, having announced, just days earlier, their completion of the world’s largest floating solar plant. Adding a hint of poetic irony to the affair, this floating solar array has been installed in a flooded former coal pit.
Why make solar panels float?
The facility is located in the Anhui province of China, in a city called Huainan. If you’re not overly familiar with China’s geography, that’s here:
Floating the panels means valuable land is kept free for other purposes. Meanwhile, the fact that it’s in a flooded mine site means the water is deep and provides an excellent, natural coolant for the panels, improving their efficiency.
According to Sungrow, the floating array has a 40 megawatts (MW) capacity. That’s enough to give power to an entire town. A small town, admittedly, but that’s still a sizeable level of output.
While this may be the first you’re hearing of floating solar fields, they have been in existence for a good ten years. We even have a couple in Australia (in South Australia and one in Lismore). Ours just aren’t quite at the magnitude of China’s.
China’s new aquatic solar field eclipses the UK’s 6.3MW plant which previously held the record for world’s largest. And its 40MW output stomps on Japan’s hopes with their floating plant, due to come online next year, that will produce 13.7MW. Of course, it’s not just the size that counts. The fact that these floating renewable energy centres are spreading across the globe is a positive thing, whatever size and shape they come in. It’s also worth keeping in mind, we only have Sungrow’s word to go on as to the output of their plant with no independent testing available at this early stage.
China emerging as a green energy super power
China is now investing more into renewable energy projects than any other country on Earth. At the same time, they are slowing their roll on fossil fuel consumption, with over 100 coal-fired power plants closed so far in 2017 alone. This stands in stark contrast to the actions of the United States. According to Bond University Professor of International Relations, Rosita Dellios:
“Trump is removing himself from the international, liberal, economic order. Opting out of the Paris Accord, denying climate change. This is the behaviour of a very selfish state, not a global leader. Whereas China is affirming it will act to maintain this order because if we all retreat, we impoverish everyone.”
Australia is currently facing the same political, economic and environmental issues as China and the US. Our mining industry is in a downturn, our politicians are echoing Trumps’s cries for energy production to continue being fueled by coal mining. Yet we also have a lot of action on the renewable energy front, with real attention being paid to plans to make Australia carbon neutral by 2020. With strong ties to both the US and China, and the two nations pulling in such opposite directions, it will be interesting to see which path Australia chooses to adopt.