Last year, China added 23 gigawatts of new wind power capacity, allowing it to generate 16 percent more electricity from wind than the year before. According to the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), this brings China’s cumulative installed capacity for wind to almost 115 gigawatts, enough to power more than 110 million homes.
This is but one example of why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a big, bespectacled baby when it comes to accurately assessing global energy policy. Back in November, the U.S. and China made a historic joint pledge to rein in their carbon emissions, but Sen. McConnell whined that the pledge “requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.” His reasoning was that the U.S. committed to cutting its emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 while China pledged to peak its emissions by 2030. However, this argument ignores the major steps China will have to take in the next decade and a half to reach such a state.
It’s true that China is the biggest polluter in the world (together with the U.S. it accounts for 45 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions), and this is largely due to its breakneck speed of development. But the resulting pollution has given the government and its citizens more than adequate cause to invest (heavily) into renewable energy sources. Today, Chinese smog levels are so high they’re leaping off scientists’ charts; its soil is so contaminated, over 40 percent of its farmland has been degraded; its pollution is so pervasive it may be generating extreme weather on the other side of the planet; and its air quality is so hazardous it was linked to 670,000 deaths in 2012.
This is why the Chinese government has declared a “war against pollution,” why its shutting down thousands of coal mines and why it installed the equivalent of Australia’s entire solar capacity in the first six months of 2014.
Given these facts, the growth of China’s wind industry is still impressive. The 23 GW of wind power it added last year is a world record and the nation is currently building the world’s largest ultra-high-voltage transmission system to connect its windier northern and western provinces to the more urban and populated central and eastern provinces.
EPI also reports that the government is offering incentives for wind farm development in areas that are less wind rich, as the more turbines it connects the more transmission lines it will build. Today, some turbines can generate more electricity than the grid can actually handle, forcing “curtailment,” or temporary turbine shutdowns. With a more robust infrastructure, and more turbines spread around, China can enjoy the full fruits of its electric labors.
According to EPI, the country’s curtailment rate has dropped by more than half since 2012.
China’s wind power is also likely to surpass any gains in what EPI has dubbed “the world’s most aggressive nuclear construction program.” China is responsible for 25 of the 68 nuclear reactors currently being built around the world, though actual construction in the country has slowed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
According to Quartz, China’s current wind power capacity is now so massive that it could potentially “produce more energy than all of the nuclear power plants in the U.S.”
Heck, with enough wind-generated electricity to power over 110 million Chinese homes, the country could already light up one-third of the homes in the U.S.!
So how can Sen. McConnell say that China’s doing nothing to change its carbon footprint? The right honorable Senator surely has his reasons (though it could be because his state of Kentucky generated 93 percent of its electricity from coal in 2013 and he’s terrified of a clean, sustainable energy that could revoke his mealticket).