China’s deserts, covering approximately 28% of its vast territory, have long been seen as arid and relatively lifeless. However, these regions are becoming the forefront of a major shift in China’s clean energy revolution. The Kubuqi Desert, once a vast expanse of nothing but sand, is now teeming with life in the form of gleaming solar panels. These panels occupy an area of around 1.4 million square meters, forming the pattern of a galloping horse. This station is not only the largest in China but also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest solar panel image in the world. Projects like these are central to President Xi Jinping’s strategy to unlock China’s potential in creating clean energy and possibly leading the country away from coal and the nightmarish pollution many of its cities have become known for.

The Rise of Renewable Energy in China’s Deserts

The transformation of the Kubuqi Desert is just one example of how China’s desolate areas are rapidly morphing into vital centers of renewable energy development. Despite becoming the front runner in clean energy, China also burns the most fossil fuels and continues to build more coal power plants. The competitive landscape, particularly with the US and Europe, adds another layer of complexity.

The project in the Kubuqi Desert is gearing up to generate a mind-blowing 16 gigawatts (GW) of power, which could light up over a million homes. Located in Inner Mongolia, it began on December 28, 2022, and represents an investment of 80 billion yuan ($1.6 billion). Reports indicate the installation will eventually have 8 GW of solar power capacity, along with 4 GW of wind power and 4 GW of coal-fired generation, in addition to energy storage. And that’s just one piece of the puzzle. China plans to build around 225 renewable energy bases in its deserts, boasting a combined capacity of a staggering 455 GW—more clean energy muscle than any other nation on Earth.

The Drivers Behind China’s Renewable Energy Push

Several factors have propelled China to the forefront of renewable energy. First, its vast desert regions provide the perfect setting for harnessing solar and wind power, thanks to plenty of sunshine and consistent winds. Secondly, China has invested heavily in making solar panels and wind turbines, spurred on by early demand from countries like Germany. The country has been constructing large-scale solar and wind power plants in its desert regions since 2021, despite facing tariffs on its solar panels from other countries.

Back in 2016, China signed the UN Paris Agreement, and in 2021 it submitted an updated 2030 climate pledge to the United Nations, confirming the country’s commitment to curtailing its carbon dioxide emissions. While it currently relies on coal-fired power generation for around 60% of its electricity, China accounts for 31% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The country has been grappling with serious air pollution and energy shortages, especially in big cities like Beijing. According to the International Energy Agency, China’s energy consumption accounts for nearly 90% of its total CO2 emissions in 2020.

Challenges and Ironies in China’s Energy Landscape

Despite impressive strides in solar energy generation, China faces the irony of producing more renewable energy than it can currently consume or transmit. This surplus results in a significant portion of clean energy going unused, as the existing grid infrastructure and energy storage capabilities lag behind the rapid pace of renewable energy development. Curtailment not only underscores the limitations of the current system but also highlights the inefficiency in harnessing the full potential of renewable resources.

The abundance of clean energy, while a remarkable achievement, falls short of its ultimate goal when it cannot fully displace reliance on fossil fuels. The challenge, therefore, is not just about generating renewable energy but also about optimizing its distribution, storage, and utilization. The crux of the issue lies in bridging the vast geographical divide between the remote sun-drenched deserts and the energy-hungry urban centers clamoring for sustainability, as well as delivering that power when it is most needed.

China is actively addressing this challenge by advancing ultra-high voltage power lines specially designed to transmit electricity over long distances with minimal losses. The construction of these power lines is a monumental engineering effort, reflecting China’s ambitious approach to reshaping its energy infrastructure.

Balancing Coal and Clean Energy

Despite making progress with clean energy, China continues to build coal-fired power plants, which seems to contradict its clean energy goals. After the pandemic, China had planned to cut back fossil fuel use, but this was short-lived. Interestingly, in 2023, China added almost 50 GW of production with coal plants alone—about the same as the installed capacity in Indonesia, Germany, or Japan. They started investing more in fossil fuels after Russia invaded Ukraine, and currently, China is constructing six times as many coal-fired power plants as the rest of the world combined.

This approach is known as the principle of “building the new before discarding the old.” Additionally, China views energy security as crucial for maintaining political stability, understanding that public dissatisfaction due to energy shortages could pose a significant risk. While the construction of new energy plants doesn’t necessarily imply a substantial increase in coal-related emissions, it does prolong China’s dependence on coal.

Coal remains a logical choice for China due to its abundant domestic reserves, ranking fourth globally, and the country’s extensive experience and infrastructure for coal extraction and utilization, which are cost-effective and scalable. Transitioning away from coal presents challenges, especially in finding alternative sources that can provide high-quality heat required for various industrial processes. Moreover, China’s economy is still growing at a considerable rate, and renewable energy cannot independently meet the energy requirements of the economy’s growth.

The Economic Dynamics of China’s Energy Sector

Interestingly, high coal prices mean that most coal plants in China are operating at a loss. With the huge quantities of solar and wind energy, which are essentially free to run once they’re installed, coal will become even less profitable. As such, the coal plants are entirely subsidized by the government with capacity payments to keep them online. This situation is rather strange—before 2014, the central government in China decided whether to build new power plants. After 2014, this job was given to each province to decide for themselves. As a result, each province tries to ensure it has enough power on its own, not wanting to depend on others. Since every province wants to be extra sure they have enough power, they end up building more coal power plants than the country really needs.

Global Implications and Cooperation

As China ramps up its renewable energy efforts, the benefits extend beyond its borders. With more clean energy plans coming online, not only will China see cleaner air, but neighboring countries could also benefit. Take Mongolia, for example. As one of China’s major coal sources, Mongolia is feeling the impact of China’s shift towards cleaner energy sources. Recognizing the potential of their shared Gobi Desert to generate solar and wind energy, Mongolia is also exploring alternative ways to generate energy income.

Furthermore, China’s Belt and Road Initiative offers another avenue for spreading its green energy influence. Since 2013, China has been investing in infrastructure projects around the world through the initiative, aiming to create a modern-day Silk Road. This initiative could extend to building green infrastructure in partner countries, further promoting the adaptation of renewable energy on a global scale.

While proponents argue that the Belt and Road Initiative can boost a country’s GDP and provide access to much-needed infrastructure development, there has also been criticism over human rights violations and environmental impacts, as well as concerns of debt-trap diplomacy resulting in neocolonialism and economic imperialism.

Investment and Innovation in Renewable Energy

As a result of its transition, in 2022, China attracted over $500 billion in investments in solar, wind energy, electric vehicles, and batteries, surpassing the US by nearly four times. These sectors are emerging as key players in the economy, with policymakers increasingly recognizing their vital role in both decarbonization efforts and economic growth. Furthermore, the widespread availability of affordable solar photovoltaic cells has substantially reduced solar energy costs worldwide, making it the most economical renewable energy option in numerous countries. This trend has facilitated significant decarbonization efforts in economies like India and Pakistan.

China’s overwhelming dominance has alarmed officials in the United States and Europe, who are worried that a flood of cheap Chinese products will undercut their efforts to grow their own energy industries, especially if the Chinese companies have what they consider an unfair advantage. The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act is a significant move to counter this. Essentially, it’s a $500 billion plan aimed at tackling inflation by investing in various sectors and giving tax breaks. Over half of that money is going towards clean energy projects.

The Path Forward

The idea behind the Inflation Reduction Act is to take a page from China’s playbook and make the most of the country’s natural resources, like the sunny deserts out west and the windy plains up north, to ramp up renewable energy production. The goal is to build everything needed for clean energy in the US, from solar panels to wind turbines, which could help make renewable energy cheaper and more widespread while also making the US less reliant on other countries. This could effectively stop the flow of Chinese high-tech industrial products into the US.

However, there are concerns that China could resort to economic retaliation if pressured by Western countries. Chinese companies have built a pretty large head start in creating well-integrated supply chains and have gained a significant foothold in international markets, way ahead of any other country. The main way to get an advantage in the clean energy sector is to scale up and cut costs, which really plays to China’s advantage.

It is safe to say that China is doing more than its fair share compared to the US in fighting climate change, even though for the past century, the US and other colonial powers of the West released more CO2 than the rest of the world combined. By prioritizing the health and well-being of its citizens, leveraging its expertise and resources, and taking proactive steps to address environmental concerns, China’s journey to becoming a renewable energy giant is a reminder of what’s possible when we invest in clean energy.

It’s also a reminder that transitioning to cleaner energy isn’t always straightforward. Though the long-term benefits are undeniable, there are significant hurdles to overcome. Beyond these hurdles lie opportunities that extend to neighboring countries, offering pathways for cleaner energy adoption and economic development.


Q1: Why is China building more coal power plants despite its renewable energy efforts?

A1: China continues to build coal power plants to ensure energy security and maintain political stability. While the construction of new energy plants does not necessarily imply a substantial increase in coal-related emissions, it prolongs China’s dependence on coal. Additionally, high coal prices mean that most coal plants operate at a loss, but they are subsidized by the government to keep them online.

Q2: What are the main challenges China faces in its renewable energy transition?

A2: The main challenges include optimizing the distribution, storage, and utilization of renewable energy. The existing grid infrastructure and energy storage capabilities lag behind the rapid pace of renewable energy development, leading to curtailment and inefficiency in harnessing the full potential of renewable resources.

Q3: How is China’s renewable energy development impacting neighboring countries?

A3: China’s renewable energy development benefits neighboring countries by potentially reducing air pollution and providing alternative energy sources. For example, Mongolia, one of China’s major coal sources, is exploring alternative ways to generate energy income through shared renewable energy projects in the Gobi Desert.

Q4: What role does the Belt and Road Initiative play in China’s renewable energy strategy?

A4: The Belt and Road Initiative aims to create a modern-day Silk Road by investing in infrastructure projects around the world, including green infrastructure. This initiative promotes the adaptation of renewable energy on a global scale and can boost the GDP of partner countries while providing access to much-needed infrastructure development.

Q5: How is the US responding to China’s dominance in the renewable energy sector?

A5: The US has passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a $500 billion plan aimed at tackling inflation by investing in various sectors, including clean energy projects. This act aims to make renewable energy cheaper and more widespread in the US, reducing reliance on Chinese products and promoting domestic clean energy production.


While China’s dominance in renewable energy production raises concerns about fair competition and global market dynamics, collaborative efforts between nations, as seen in initiatives like COP 28, signal potential for cooperation in addressing shared challenges. Whether China is on track to meet its 2030 and 2060 energy targets is yet to be determined. However, China is taking some massive and impressive steps forward. At the very least, it’s an impressive start towards a greener future.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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