China’s Belt and Road Initiative is poised to transform the clean energy industry

Negative: Much attention has been placed on China’s engagement with coal power plant projects, which is arguably the BRI’s main driver.

According to research conducted by the Global Environment Institute, China has participated in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 of the 65 countries along the Belt and Road, with Bangladesh, Mongolia, and Vietnam among them.

The total installed capacity of these projects is 251 gigawatts (GW). As of now, 52 of these projects are in the pipeline, with a cumulative installed capacity of 72 GW, accounting for 12.6 percent of coal-fired power projects globally.

It is perhaps of interest to point out that China is investing huge sums of money into renewable energy, promising to commit an additional US$361 billion to clean energy by 2020. Beijing is also curtailing new investments in coal-fired power plants that run deep into the economic belt.


Notwithstanding the country’s voracious appetite for coal and oil, China will invest more than $6 trillion in low-carbon power generation and other clean-energy technologies over the next 20 years. Global energy demand is expected to rise 30 percent by 2040 with investments in new power generation capacity expanding to $10.2 trillion. The majority of that investment— nearly $7.4 trillion— will be in renewable energy generating capacity

As the International Energy Agency (IEA)explains, the scale of China’s clean energy investment is key to the momentum now driving low-carbon energy technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that China has already invested $47 billion in dominating solar panel manufacturing. In fact, China has invested billions in large overseas deals involving renewable energy: China has introduced the world’s largest carbon market, it leads the world in the construction of nuclear power plants, and sells more electric vehicles than the rest of the world combined.

Given the fact that some 50 percent of the world’s energy could come from solar and wind, China looks poised to become the world’s first clean energy superpower. Indeed, China could generate 80 percent of its energy from renewables by 2050. The country’s unique capacity for large-scale infrastructure projects suggests that BRI will be critical to moving global energy consumption beyond fossil fuels. To this end, China has issued nearly $25 billion worth of green bonds for infrastructure investmentsacross a range of categories including clean energy, clean transport, resource conservation and recycling, pollution prevention and control, energy saving, and ecological protection.