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26 Apr 2024

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China Sees the Light with Solar Energy

China's National Energy Administration (NEA) has said there were 217GW of new solar panels installed throughout the nation in 2023. This exceeds the entire US solar grid, and brings total installed solar power in China to almost 400GW, according to NEA's figures.

Put into context, total amount equals almost 15% of China's electricity grid; the US currently generates 3% to 4% of its electricity from solar power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The US and China have, by far, the world's two largest economies, and are the two largest producers of CO2 and related emissions. China now uses almost twice the amount of electricity in the US (with about four times the number of people), and produces twice the amount of emissions. China and the US are responsible for 30% and 15% of the world's annual emissions, respectively.

Big Challenges Remain
More germane, China's economic efficiency in producing emissions is only about one-quarter that of the US. Looking through this lens, the world as a whole produces 400 tons of CO2 per US$1 million in GDP, according to the IDCA Digital Readiness Index. The US, by contrast, produces 177 tons per $1M and China sits at 708.

(Measuring economic efficiency this way provides a much more accurate picture of global emissions than looking at grand totals or per capital totals; the IDCA index I the only source for this information in the world.)

The economic efficiency numbers highlight the enormity of the challenge facing China's gigantic population, land mass, and economy. For example, China is the second or third largest consumer of nuclear energy in the world (in a dead tie with France with the US in the lead), yet produces only 5% of its electricity from nuclear. The US, by contrast gets 18% of its electricity from nuclear energy, and France sits at more than 60%.

IDCA Digital Readiness Index Has the Data
The data shakes out to produce an Environmental score of 36 for China in the IDCA Index, below the world average of 40. The US has a current score of 49 in this category, which is hardly great, ranking the nation 71st in the world in this category. (Similar scores are found in Bulgaria, Greece, and Chile.)

An argument can be made that China's economic efficiency – a function of its massive manufacturing base and increasing numbers of cars – is a product of the US and other developed nations outsourcing a high percentage of their dirty, industrial work to China in recent decades.

Even so, the economic efficiency of other developed industrial powers is much higher than China's – examples include Japan at 259 tons of CO2 per $1M GDP (compared to China's 708), Germany at 153, an South Korea at Switzerland at and South Korea at 370.

Everything in China must be done, and is done, on a very large scale. Its recent progress in solar panels can be projected to continue, as can its efforts to develop other renewable energy and more nuclear power. What effect these efforts will have on economic efficiency, and what other programs the country's government will apply toward improving in this area, cannot be projected, but can certainly be observed.

Photo from Government of China

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