Rafts of black solar panels floating over the flooded site of a former coal mine in China symbolize “a mindset change” taking hold in Asia faster than in North America, a senior HSBC banker writes in the Financial Times of London.
The United States and Europe may have pioneered technologies to unlock the potential of renewable energy from the sun and wind, observes Helen Wong, HSBC’s CEO for Great China. But “Asia, long a laggard on these fronts, is starting to catch up.”
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Which means a site that once contributed to destabilizing the climate and worsened China’s pervasive air pollution, while driving its meteoric economic rise, is now a part of the country’s energy transformation.
Apart from launching the world’s largest floating solar array near Huainan, in eastern China, the country has cancelled more than 100 coal-fired power stations and will introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme later this year. India plans to install 225 gigawatts of renewable generation by 2022, and hopes to supply 57% of all its electricity from clean sources by 2027. Both countries, Wong notes, “are set to exceed the targets they set for themselves under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.”
Change will not come overnight, she concedes. “It will take years to replace or upgrade the often polluting and inefficient economic activity that was built up during the headlong rush for growth over the past decades. Ambitious infrastructure projects may, in places, imperil natural habitats. And polluted rivers cannot be cleaned overnight.”
But economics and environmental urgency are aligned to drive in irreversible shift from carbon-based to clean energy. “More extreme weather conditions, droughts, and rising sea levels have become increasingly hard to ignore” in the world’s biggest and third-biggest greenhouse gas-emitting economies.
“Take air pollution: five of the most polluted cities in G20 countries are in China; 12 are in India,” Wong writes. At the same time, thanks to advancing technology and plummeting costs, “it now makes not just ethical but also commercial sense to build wind farms, or to deploy electrically-powered buses on public transport routes.”
Ultimately, the banker observes, the Asian giants’ strategy “is not just about the optics of bluer skies. It is also about facilitating the ambitions of China and India to take their economies up the value chain.” As Wong sees the rapid greening of the two economies, “far from being a burdensome must-do, it is actually a key prerequisite that will support this shift,” by establishing dominance in next-generation energy.