Renewable energy supporters are praising China for adding a tremendous amount of renewable energy to its electricity mix last year. American policymakers would be wise to look closely at the Chinese data and apply some lessons learned to American energy policy.
Energy Post, a European energy news and analysis site, published an article this week celebrating China’s growth in renewable power. “In one year China added almost as much generation from renewable power as Germany’s total renewable energy generation,” Energy Post proclaimed.
“With an increase of 5 percent in 2016, Chinese electricity consumption rose to 5920 TWh, of which 25% was supplied by renewables,” Energy Post explained.
A closer look at the data shows the author of the Energy Post article (properly) considers hydro power a renewable energy source. Twenty-five percent of Chinese power may come from renewables, but almost 80 percent of China’s renewable power is generated by hydroelectric dams.
The chart above, published by Energy Post, shows how coal power dominates Chinese electricity production, and how hydro power dominates Chinese renewables. China produces approximately double the share of its electricity from coal than does the United States, while its wind and solar power shares are approximately equal to that of the United States. The United States produces a much greater share of its electricity from zero- and low-emissions power sources than China, bolstered by U.S. nuclear and natural gas power.
Environmental activists frequently claim China is leading the way in renewable power growth and the United States should follow suit. Last month, for example, Forbes.com published an article touting China’s commitment to producing 27 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The article praised China for “marching toward a clean future.” Nowhere did the article mention that hydro power is the primary driver of China’s clean energy. Fortunately, I looked deeper into the “clean future” claims and uncovered the truth that hydro power is the reason for China’s growth in clean, renewable power.
U.S. policymakers should embrace and emulate the definition of renewable power that environmental activists assign to other nations. The U.S. wind and solar power industry have brainwashed policymakers into believing the only renewable or low-emissions power sources are wind and solar. To the contrary, hydro power is also renewable, and hydro and nuclear power emit no air pollution. Natural gas is also a low-emissions power source, generating just a small fraction of the emissions of coal power.
American air quality is the best in the industrialized world. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. Recognizing the role that can be played by all renewable and clean-burning power sources will take us there much faster than supporting problematic wind and solar power alone.