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The Red Dragon Turns Green

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[Photo of Dragon]Environmentalists pushing for the use of solar energy have found an unlikely ally in a long-time foe: China.

Even as the beleaguered mainland continues to draw international flak for its self policing of industries (mostly state-owned), it is now championing the use of alternative sources of energy. since 2000, China has been taking steps to make itself the largest supplier and consumer of green energy in the world.

China now uses and generates more solar power than the united states, the world’s top polluter and biggest consumer of oil.

The Chinese government is so determined to green up its act it enacted a law early last year to increase the use of renewable energy sources to 10% in less than 15 years. The law even extends to the purchase and use of solar panels, solar water heating, and other renewable energy fuels.

Why Green Makes Sense

During the international new Energy and renewable Energy Forum held in September last year, the Chinese government promised it would promote the use of photovoltaic panels in buildings and other structures throughout the country.

Photovoltaic cells (wafer-like films of thin metal sandwiched between silicon sheets) release small amounts of electricity when exposed to sunlight. The process, known as a photoelectric effect, involves the emission of electrons from the surface of a metal in response to light, producing electricity. Solar power is an ideal energy alternative for China. The sprawling nation receives over 2,000 hours of sunlight each year and could produce solar energy equivalent to 1,700 billion tons of coal.

[Photo of Solar City]Aside from the advantage of its wide open spaces, China’s consistency in solar energy development has made it a top global manufacturer of photovoltaic cells. it is also a leader in solar energy research and technology transfer.

By 2020, China aims to produce 120,000 megawatts of renewable energy — roughly 12% of its power producing capacity. according to China’s Center for renewable Energy Development, this represents an investment of more than $100 billion. And it’s not all talk and funding.

Beijing is constructing a “solar street” where streetlights and buildings run entirely on solar energy. The city also has Xuanwu Park, which will showcase solar-energy use for lighting, heating, and even refrigeration. Beijing is China’s second-highest energy consumer.

Shanghai, meanwhile, has started implementing a three-year plan to increase the use of solar energy in urban and rural areas. The city is setting up several solar power generators to produce a total of 5,000 kilowatts, enough to power a small urban area. it is also undertaking 30 projects using solar energy for urban construction.

The shanghai City government also plans to install solar panels in the factories of its heavy industries. Thousands of rooftop solar panels will also be installed in commercial structures, residential buildings, and schools in the city.

But the use of solar energy for heating and power is not limited to China’s major cities. solar cells have been installed as well on rooftops from the lowland suburbs to the railway stations of Tibet.

In rural Rizhao City, for instance, 99% of households now use solar water heaters. The city’s street lights, traffic signals, and park lights are powered by solar energy. households there also use green energy to heat water and cook food.

Photo of Kettles heated in TibetBenevolent Green Giant

Fifty five percent of solar thermal production in the world is produced by China. The Worldwatch institute reported that as early as 2003 the country already had over 52 million square meters of pipe collectors for solar heaters.

China’s recent efforts are projected to dramatically slash the industrial giant’s dependence on coal and oil. (Fuel resources have been blamed for much of the world’s dangerous gas emissions and industrial waste.)

Aside from using solar technology, China wants to share its know-how with other countries, especially developing ones. since 2004, Chinese scientists have been training 10,000 technicians from countries (like the Philippines and africa) in the use of small-scale, solar power generation as well as solar-powered heating and irrigation.

China’s role in solar energy research was boosted by Beijing’s hosting of the 2007 World Conference on solar Energy in september. to follow through on its role as the world’s emerging top green-energy advocate, China will be demonstrating its solar power savvy at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

To power the Olympic sports facilities, 2- to 3-megawatt solar generators will be used. the 2008 Olympics will mark the first time solar energy will be used on a grand scale at a major international event. China will also showcase solar power at the Shanghai Expo in 2010.

Some pundits, however, are skeptical of the red Dragon’s motives in turning green. They say China could just be pitching business and, while soaking up the sun, could also have an eye on soaking up profits from countries that will depend on it for solar technology.

But whatever China’s reasons are, countries like the Philippines that rely heavily on imported oil will surely benefit from a solar energy revolution. The Philippines, which has an almost endless supply of silicon (the stuff solar panels are made of), can cash in on the green just like what China is doing.

What pundits fail to consider is that no single country can monopolize the sun.

Print ed: 10/07


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