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China displaces US as global leader In Renewable Energy enabling strategic military advantage

A burgeoning economic, political and military power, China is also aiming to lay down a marker on the renewable energy sector. On 22 September 2020, President Xi declared China’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, at the 75th Session of The United Nations General Assembly. China joined over a hundred other countries who have made similar commitments in recent years, but as the world’s biggest energy producer with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, this commitment by China is the most ambitious and significant so far.


China’s oil imports have been booming for 25 years, with gas imports rising steadily since 2006. China is now the largest oil and natural gas importer. Oil and gas constitute a rising 30% of China’s total energy demand. Since 2013 alone, China’s oil production has fallen nearly 15%, while its oil demand has risen 30% to ~13.8 million b/d. In turn, China relies on imports for around 75% of its total oil usage. China also likes to buy crude when prices are low to stockpile its security inventories, a “rainy day” supply that could currently cover about 80 days of imports. September crude imports were up 11% YoY.


China’s reliance on imported natural gas is also significant, LNG imports boomed a whopping 40% in 2018. Although consuming nearly three times more gas in total, China’s LNG imports are still about 25% less than that of Japan. China, however, will surpass Japan before 2022 to become the largest LNG buyer in the world. The two now account for 45% of all LNG imports but a nuclear re-start program will drop Japan further down the LNG list. According to the EIA, China’s natural gas imports, which amounted to 1.4 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2015 (about 24 percent of consumption), are expected to rise to 6 Tcf (about 26 percent of consumption) in 2035.


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a multi-billion-dollar strategic project that connects the Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road Economic Belt, also known as “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). It is an ambitious geostrategic plan to carve out a combination of continental and maritime influence. The aim of the project is to link northwest China with ports in the Arabian Sea via a road and rail corridor. It provides China the shortest and quickest access to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.


For China to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, the country’s energy system will have to build and integrate considerably more renewable energy (RE), reducing its reliance on coal- fired power production. China’s installed clean energy power generation capacity increased to 1.08 billion kW by the end of 2020, accounting for nearly half of the country’s total installed power generation capacity.


Since 2013, China has taken an aggressive approach towards curbing pollution by outright banning polluting activities, performing surprise inspections at manufacturing sites, as well as creating taxes for carbon emission. At the same time, China has made vast investments in renewable, totalling 44 billion USD. One of the main driving force underlying these investments lie in China’s governmental support, having placed emphasis on renewable in their latest Five Year economic development plan.


A report on national renewable energy power development released in 2021 by the National Energy Administration, noting that China’s actual consumption of electricity from renewable sources was more than 2.16 trillion kWh in 2020, accounting for 28.8 percent of its total electricity consumption and up 1.3 percentage points year on year. The average national utilization rates of wind power and photovoltaic power generation in 2020 were 97 percent and 98 percent, respectively. In major river basins, the water energy utilization rate was 97 percent.


China’s Renewable energy leader

According to data released in April 2021   by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) the world added more than 260 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity last year, exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50 per cent.


China and the United States of America were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020. China, already the world’s largest market for renewables added 136 GW in 2020 with the bulk coming from 72 GW of wind and 49 GW of solar. The United States of America installed 29 GW of renewables last year, nearly 80 per cent more than in 2019, including 15 GW of solar and around 14 GW of wind.

Hydropower: Growth in hydro recovered in 2020, with the commissioning of several large projects delayed in 2019. China added 12 GW of capacity, followed by Turkey with 2.5 GW.

Wind energy: Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111 GW compared to 58 GW last year). China added 72 GW of new capacity, followed by the United States of America (14 GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1 GW in 2020.

Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China added 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2018. To put things in perspective, the U.K., Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands combined added 2.7 GW in 2018. And when it comes to solar photovoltaic capacity, China also leads the way, adding 44 GW in 2018. This may be lower than 2017, when 53 GW were added, but China still outstrips its nearest rivals by some way: the U.S. added roughly 10.5 GW in 2018, the IEA says.

Solar energy: Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78 GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases in China (49 GW) and Viet Nam (11 GW). Japan also added over 5 GW and India and Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4 GW. The United States of America added 15 GW.

China has vaulted to the top of the world in solar power capacity in 2016, passing Germany, which had been the long-standing leader China controls almost 60 percent of the solar market worldwide, purportedly because China’s government and cheap labor enable the country to produce and sell panels for far less than anyone else can produce them.

Bioenergy: Net capacity expansion fell by half in 2020 (2.5 GW compared to 6.4 GW in 2019). Bioenergy capacity in China expanded by over 2 GW. Europe the only other region with significant expansion in 2020, adding 1.2 GW of bioenergy capacity, a similar to 2019.

Electric Vehicles: In 2015, China surpassed us to become the largest electric vehicle market and is on pace to dominate production for the next 20 years. Chinese electric vehicles account for 60 percent of global sales: 876,000 vehicles were produced in 2018 compared with 361,000 in America. In 2015, China surpassed US to become the largest electric vehicle market and is on pace to dominate production for the next 20 years. Chinese electric vehicles account for 60 percent of global sales: 876,000 vehicles were produced last year compared with 361,000 in America.


China is on track to meet its pledge to get 15 percent of its energy from clean energy sources including renewables, nuclear and hydropower, and to reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.” In US,  President Donald Trump announced withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord arguing the nonbinding accord was unfair to American workers and U.S. competitiveness. US president Trump’s budget contain significant cuts in government spending on clean energy development, while he pursues policies to bring back coal. As Trump’s rhetoric leaves the world in doubt over what his plan is to tackle climate change, China is being thrust into a leadership role,” Li Shuo, a global policy advisor for Greenpeace, said in a statement.


Geopolitical Impact

“The renewables revolution enhances the global leadership of China, reduces the influence of fossil fuel exporters and brings energy independence to countries around the world,” said Grimsson, speaking at the launch of the report. “The transformation of energy brings big power shifts.”


The report argues that the geopolitical and socio-economic consequences of the rapid growth of renewable energy could be as profound as those which accompanied the shift from biomass to fossil fuels two centuries ago. The changes are likely to include the emergence of new energy leaders around the world, changing patterns of trade and the development of new alliances. It could also spark instability in some countries which have grown dependent on oil and gas revenues.


Earlier in 2019, the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation reported that China became the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles, followed by Japan and Germany. The United States ranks fourth. China has also surpassed US for the lead in renewable energy technology, too, with 150,000 patents — making up 30 percent of the world’s total. US is second with just over 100,000 patents, while Japan and the European Union follow with about 75,000 each.


China had entered into a historic contract with Russia, an estimated $400 billion gas deal to supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually over three decades starting in 2018. Per EIA’s base case projection, in 2035 Russia could satisfy about 85 percent of China’s oil import requirements (8.1 of 9.7 million b/d) and all of China’s needs for natural gas imports (6 Tcf).  China shares a 4,179 kilometers (km) land border with Russia, so pipelines connecting Russian oil and gas fields to northeastern China would be secure and energy flows could not be effectively shut down by the United States.


China majority of  oil and gas imports is over sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and through maritime choke points are controlled by U.S. navy and are susceptible to naval blockade. China is  developing alternate land routes to bypass current maritime routes.  China’s thrust in renewable energy shall also reduce the vulnerability of its oil and gas imports over sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and through maritime choke points.


Advanced energy systems will temper rising global demand for oil, impacting global diplomacy and influence, with direct national security implications for the U.S., says CNA report. The United States must lead in the global transition to clean energy or risk losing influence in South Asia and Africa, a coalition of retired U.S. generals and admirals said in a report. Russia and Iran, two countries not always friendly to Washington, are positioning themselves to meet burgeoning oil and natural gas demand in India and China. For example, a nearly $13 billion agreement giving Russian state oil firm Rosneft and its partners a 98 percent share of India’s Essar oil company is expected to close this month. Meanwhile, China and countries in Europe are leading the way in investing in clean energy in Africa and India, where energy demand is expected to grow strongly for decades.


According to The CNA Military Advisory Board, a Virginia-based think-tank,The US is falling behind other countries in advanced energy technologies, threatening national security and undermining its global influence. The CNA Military Advisory Board, a Virginia-based think-tank, argues that the US should “take a leadership role in the transition to advanced energy” by stepping up research and development of technologies such as renewables, nuclear power, energy efficiency and electricity storage.


The Global lead in Renewable technology shall enable strategic  military advantage

Energy is also vital to Defence for war fighting capabilities, such as increased range, better endurance, longer time on station, and reduced requirements for resupply. “Installations at home and abroad are increasingly dependent on energy for real-time command and control, remote operations of unmanned air and ground units, and intelligence analysis. In addition, the Defense Department is developing a new strategy—“The Third Offset Strategy”—that places specific focus on next-generation technologies, platforms, and weapons systems to sustain our competitive advantage. These new systems, such as rail guns and directed energy weapons (lasers), will be more dependent on reliable high-capacity electrical systems that will require advanced energy components. Secure power is essential now, and will be even more so in the future,” says CNA report.


Improved energy performance also can reduce the risk and effects of attacks on supply lines and enable tactical and operational superiority. One in nearly 40 fuel convoys in Iraq in 2007 resulted in a death or serious injury, according to a study commissioned by the Defense Department. In Afghanistan the same year, one in 24 fuel convoys suffered casualties.


Advanced energy systems can lower vulnerable logistical requirements, extending missions by reducing the need for fuel resupply, and lowering the number of combat forces needed to protect fuel supplies for our warfighters in forward operations and installations. DoD should explore alternate and renewable energy sources that are reliable, cost effective, and can relieve the dependence of deployed forces on vulnerable fuel supply chains to better enable our primary mission to win in conflict. The purpose of such efforts should be to increase the readiness and reach of our forces.” said James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense.


The DOD has made advanced energy sources for installations a priority. This is being driven “to ensure the energy resilience and reliability of a large percentage of the energy it manages, reduce the amount of budget allocated to this energy, and treat installation energy as a force multiplier in the support of military readiness.”  To realize this objective, the DOD has set a goal to procure at least 25 percent of total facility energy from renewable energy sources, while installing 3 gigawatts of renewable energy directly on its installations, by FY 2025


The lack of emphasis on renewable may also impact US  Department of Defense (DoD) that  had embarked upon an ambitious program of expanded renewable energy generation on bases and in the field, with a goal of producing 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The armed forces nearly doubled renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015, to 10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes, according to a Department of Defense report. The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, department data showed, with a number of utilities and solar companies benefiting.


Zhao Keshi, a member of the CMC and director of the Logistics Department of the CMC, asserted that President Xi Jinping conceives of energy construction as an integral part of the national security plan to include expansion and construction of more renewable energy resources.


Additionally, Zhao identified two important and ongoing trends in his remarks: the revolution in national energy and the full integration of civilian and military (civ-mil) development that will enhance the Chinese “wartime ability to fight.” From Zhao’s comments, it would appear that China is securitizing renewable energy, as part of a broader energy strategy (能源戰略).


Chinese leader Xi has repeatedly stressed the importance of “military-civilian integration” as a core component of the country’s military development strategy. China’s leaders believe this integration will help China continue its rapid defense modernization without creating too great a drag on its economy. “Through in-depth development of military-civilian integration, military technologies are gradually applied in civilian fields, making high-tech equipment available to commercial markets. At the same time, we have also emphasized the importance of encouraging more civilian product suppliers to actively participate in the defense-building process,” said Dai Hao, Director-General of China’s Institute of Command and Control.


PLA builds renewable power grids for border defense outposts in plateau, islands

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has built newly developed micro-power grid systems for more than 80 border defense outposts in remote plateau regions and islands, and troops stationed at these posts are using stable, reliable and renewable solar and wind energy sources in addition to diesel oil and battery storage, ensuring their combat capabilities, analysts said on Thursday.


Construction of an off-grid new-energy micro-power grid that integrates wind energy, solar energy, diesel oil and battery storage systems has been completed for a border defense company affiliated with PLA Xinjiang Military Command stationed in Shenxianwan in Karakorum at an elevation of 5,380 meters, the PLA Daily reported in Jan 2021. The stable, all-weather power supply has fundamentally solved problems that the troops had in cooking, keeping warm and showering, the newspaper reported. Power grids like this have been established for more than 80 remote border defense outposts in plateau regions and islands, and the utilization of new energy means the troops no longer solely rely on diesel generators. They now have safe, highly efficient, reliable and renewable power supply, the report said.


The micro-power grids are customized to reflect the actual conditions at each outpost. For instance, those used in plateau regions are integrated with radiation-resistant and sand-resistant modules; those used in frigid zones have heat preservation and low temperature-resistant batteries, and those used at sea are designed to resist high humidity, salt haze and strong winds, according to the report. Solar and wind energy are particularly useful in remote border regions, because plateau regions and islands often have intense sunshine and strong winds, a PLA veteran who used to conduct missions in Southwest China’s high-altitude border region told the Global Times on Thursday, who requests anonymity.


Logistics support of this sort is a key factor in maintaining and boosting combat capabilities, and well-supported troops will be fully ready to fight at all times, the veteran said. Over the past five years, the PLA has connected more than 500 border defense outposts to the national power grid, and the new micro-power grids were built for those that could not be connected, the PLA Daily noted. The PLA has also been improving other aspects of infrastructure construction for border defense troops, including communications base stations and oxygen generators.




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