China's Renewable Energy Boom

Daniel Shin
October 3, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Push for alternative energy has been on the rise. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In recent years, China has been one of the most active leaders in the renewable energy revolution. While the nation of 1.3 billion has focused solely on growing industrialization at all costs - air pollution being the leading example - its leaders have shifted their attention to addressing the environmental issues that come along with a never-before-seen rate of growth in factories and diverse infrastructures across the country. Recent study has found that coal contributes to 40% of the total concentration of pollution particles known as PM2.5, and is thus the primary cause of air quality pollution in China. [1] Other pollutants are also widely studied; however, frequent haze episodes closely linked to PM2.5 have pushed more studies to examine the level of this specific fine particle.


While specific pollutants in the air cannot be credited as the single reason for China's increased effort in the renewable energy revolution, the nation's air pollution is believed to be the primary driving force. [2] China has claimed to invest heavily into developing alternative energy sources - such as wind energy shown in Fig. 1 - while reducing its dependency on coal and other fossil fuels. [3,4] Specifically, the National Energy Agency (NEA) recently put forth a plan to spend $360 billion into expanding renewable power generation by 2020. [5] In another report, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) pledged to invest $144 billion into developing solar energy, while also committing heavily on building wind farms, hydro, tidal, and geothermal power generators.


While the nation's current progress in these plans cannot be clearly gauged given the unreliability of the released official numbers, the initial signs are promising. The National Bureau of Statistics reported that the coal consumption has fallen for a third year in a row in 2016. [6] Given China's standing as the world's biggest coal consumer, this move for clean energy carries enormous significance for the environment. [7] Other than improving the nation's air quality and related health issues among its own citizens, China's commitment also has created many jobs in recent years. Furthermore, China's efforts are starting to be globally recognized, signaling the urgency of the need to address carbon emissions and encouraging every nation across the globe to follow its lead.

© Daniel Shin. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Q. Ma et al., "Impacts of Coal Burning on Ambient PM2.5 Pollution in China," Atmos. Chem. Phys. 17, 4477 (2016).

[2] B. Gardiner, "Three Reasons to Believe in China's Renewable Energy Boom," National Geographic, 12 May 17.

[3] A. Lebovitz, "Coal: China and Beyond," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[4] C. Hasson, "The Past and Future of Coal as an Energy Source," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2017.

[5] M. Meng et al., "China to Plow $361 Billion into Renewable Fuel by 2020," Reuters, 4 Jan 17.

[6] L. Watt, "China's Coal Consumption Falls for 3rd Year in a Row," Associated Press, 28 Feb 17.

[7] P.-L. Lam, "Energy in China: Development and Prospects," China Perspectives, 1 Jun 05.