Why Apple is building solar farms in China

“Apple just agreed to back two large solar farms in China. It’s the biggest deal of its kind for a U.S. company operating in China,” Tom Randall reports for Bloomberg. “For China, the deal is only a beginning.”

“China has been installing more renewable-power capacity than fossil fuels for several years, a gap that’s growing. In 2015, China will install 15 gigawatts to 18 gw of solar power alone, double the solar deployment in the U.S., according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF),” Randall reports. “In the next 15 years, China is on track to have more low-carbon electricity than the entire capacity of the U.S. power grid. ‘Think of what their grid will look like in 2030,’ Michael Liebreich, founder of BNEF, said at the organization’s annual summit last week in New York. ‘A very competitive advantage.'”

Randall reports, “Many U.S. tech giants — not just Apple — have been criticized for outsourcing their pollution, says Justin Wu, head of Asia research for BNEF. Apple is ‘hitting back at that whole line of arguments,’ he says. ‘This is the beginning of something. Manufacturing in China is going to get greened.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This is likely good direction, since in many cities and industrial areas of China right now, breathing clean air is a fantasy.

31 Comments

  1. The moment renewable energy sources are brought into discussion in America, it immediately becomes a political fight. Somebody quickly ties it to the climate change debate and begins vocally arguing against it for with big oil ready-made talking points.

    MDN take re-focuses the discussion about renewable sources (especially solar/wind/hydro, where there’s no combustion) on the primary benefit: pollution reduction. China is a prime example, but America isn’t far behind.

    1. Exactly. Cities are filthy places. If you lock yourself in your garage with the engine running bad things will happen. Climate change or not, reducing the amount of crap we pump out into our environment will benefit us on a day to day basis.

  2. China is taking a long term view, Apple takes a long term view. China and Apple work very well together for their mutual benefit.

    If you look at the scale of projects being built in China, you can see that they are building a comprehensive 21st century infrastructure. Many people underestimate China, but China is building some of the most ambitious projects on the planet and no country, not even the US, could match what they’re now doing in many areas.

  3. It’s just a tax write off for Apple. These big solar farms with overpriced, inefficient solar panels eat precious land. In 20 years we’ll look back at these large, overpriced monstrosities and wonder what we were thinking.

    1. Solar farms are often located in the desert, where there is little competition for the land. In more densely populated areas, solar panels are easily placed on rooftops and over parking lots. Imagine solar panels integrated into roads some day.

      About 100 square miles of solar panels in the American southwest would power the entire US. This is about the same amount of land that is currently strip-mined for coal. But you don’t hear many people complaining about coal strip-mines and tar sands wastelands.

      Solar panels are getting more efficient (and cheaper) all the time.

      We should be all over renewables. We have the technology.

        1. re Dftr – I’ll never really understand how the peasantry support the aristocracy with such frothing enthusiasm.

          Dftr – please tell your friends, the Kochs, that we don’t buy your empty, oil-supporting gibberish.

      1. Unfortunately we don’t have the technology. Not yet. If you take all of the renewable energy we create in this country, all the solar, all the wind, combined it doesn’t come close to the energy output of one medium sized coal mine. That’s what we’re up against.

        Then there are the storage problems:
        http://hotair.com/archives/2015/01/20/hawaii-learns-that-going-solar-isnt-as-easy-as-it-sounds/

        I also worry about the security of large solar farms. Pretty easy target.

      2. TomH:

        1. Show evidence that supports solar farms are mostly located in deserts. One of Apple’s largest solar farms is on grass…;
        2. Solar panels integrated into roads is a joke: the LED lights in the panels get washed out in direct sunlight; vehicles cover the panels through the day when it’s sunny, blocking the ability of the panels to generate meaningful electricity, etc.;
        3. Show us the breakdown of 100 square miles of land in the American southwest being able to power the entire US;
        4. Solar panels are getting more efficient and cheaper all the time: show us. But even if that were so, it just supports my argument that in 20 years these large solar farms will be terribly obsolete and using way too much land… that the technology today is still incredibly expensive with questionable benefits.

        I like solar. But there’s nothing wrong with mining the earth for natural resources like oil and using that to power things.

        1. Dftr, did my best to reply. t
          1. Show evidence that supports solar farms are mostly located in deserts. One of Apple’s largest solar farms is on grass…;
          >> I mispoke. Sorry. I honestly do not know the proportional split of desert vs urban solar arrays. However, some of the biggest solar power farms are located in the desert. Here are 2 links I found quickly with a web search that should get you started if you are really interested in it:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_plants_in_the_Mojave_Desert
          http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2014/05/09/Arizona-desert-gets-largest-solar-panel-array-in-the-world/7741399663839/
          I assumed that if China wanted to build solar farms, it would make use of the Gobi desert, which is not far from Beijing. With desertification …due to global warming caused by burning carbon-based fuels… at a rate of about 10 miles per year, the Gobi desert will reach Beijing soon. Like in 5 to 10 years. (You can look that up if you want.) Incidentally, the Gobi desert is HUGE. And since China produces a lot of solar panels (and has really cheap labor costs), it install as many as it wanted. (Although the Beijing smog caused by burning so much carbon-fuel probably reduces the effectiveness of solar arrays.)
          Locating solar arrays in the desert makes sense because they are typically in the equatorial zone (although the Gobi is further north), which is optimal for solar power generation and because land is cheap as no one can live in the desert.
          Nevertheless, places like New Jersey and Germany, which are quite a bit north of the “ideal” location for optimal solar power generation, are putting solar to good use. (So is Teton County, Wyoming, fyi.) Just the other day I noticed a large parking lot covered with solar panels at a commercial building off Route 280 in northern NJ (about 20 minutes west of the Lincoln Tunnel). Great idea.

          2. Solar panels integrated into roads is a joke: the LED lights in the panels get washed out in direct sunlight; vehicles cover the panels through the day when it’s sunny, blocking the ability of the panels to generate meaningful electricity, etc.;
          
>> Check out this link as one example of things people are working on: http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml
          Most roads have shoulders on either side. Picture an array of solar panels at grade along the south side of all major east-west highways (like Route 80) from coast to coast. It’s just a thought. Incidentally, a lot of the roads where I now live in the American West are not covered with cars most of the time — and it is a huge expanse of roads.

          3. Show us the breakdown of 100 square miles of land in the American southwest being able to power the entire US;
          >> Actually, it is an area 100 miles x 100 miles, which is actually 10,000 square miles. Here is a link: http://ecolocalizer.com/2008/05/10/solar-energy-could-power-us-many-times-over/
          Here is a link that calculates the Saharan desert is 18X more area than is needed to power the _world_: http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127
          But you can do your own web search; the data are out there.

          4. Solar panels are getting more efficient and cheaper all the time: show us. But even if that were so, it just supports my argument that in 20 years these large solar farms will be terribly obsolete and using way too much land… that the technology today is still incredibly expensive with questionable benefits.
          >> The smartest ones who invested in solar are the ones who did in the 60s, despite its apparent high costs. Those solar panels have been producing electricity for 50 years, while critics harped they would “wear out” in 20 years. So I am not sure what your point is. It is sort of like computers, I guess: you will always get a faster and (relatively) cheaper computer if you wait. But there comes a time when you actually _need_ a computer, so you plunk your money down and buy it. Dunno what the big deal is with investing in renewables.

          I like solar. But there’s nothing wrong with mining the earth for natural resources like oil and using that to power things.
          >> Well, the only problem with carbon fuels is that they produce 3x their weight as carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted. (Not to mention other pollutants and greenhouse gases.) You can look this up; it is no joke.

          1. TomH:

            Thanks for your replies:

            1. I figured you were referencing that bullshit pseudoscience solar roadways project. The bottom line: all of their claims are baseless and the calculations used to determine all of America being powered by solar roadways are flawed: it assumes no coverage of the solar roadways and perfect efficiency, etc. Many of our main roadways are covered during the day. Yes, they’ll be able to produce some electricity, but not in the unrealistic way people think. And the expense of doing this is absurd. The durability, suspect.
            2. When it comes to solar. I’m not referring to DEGRADATION of solar panels. Although at 1-3% per year, that is a factor. I’m referring to EFFICIENCY. The best panels in the world are around 22% efficient, and they’ve been like that for years. There’s been advancements in degradation but not so much efficiency (when it comes to commercialization). This is where I’m saying, as are others, that covering so much land today with 2014 panels… in 20 years, when panels are much more efficient, we’ll need much less land to cover for the same power generation. The bottom line is, solar farms are massive and it requires massive solar farms to get any decent power throughput for industrial use.
            3. Your 100 square miles was quite obviously way off. 10,000 square miles? Will believe that when I see it. It’ll take much more than that in reality if you know anything about working with solar and offgrid power.

            Look, I’m all for solar, but the reality is, to get good panels, wrap them onto a home, and get anywhere near decent power generation, you’re talking upwards of a $25,000 investment, or more. And you still can’t rely on them completely. That upfront investment would buy you just over 10 years of power assuming average power consumption for an average size family home. And after 10 years, your panels may need maintenance, and they’ll be degraded ~15% if you bought the good panels. The financials of doing this right now don’t make sense for many applications.

            Look to SolarCity to see the limitations: you won’t see SolarCity all around the world, That’s because they only go where there’s X amount of sunshine per year, where X is defined as their minimum sunshine requirements to make it worthwhile… California dreaming my friend, and from Canada, that’s such a winter’s day.

      1. moreck:

        Get out of your basement and join the rest of us. Land is covered by these things and disturbed in a very significant way. What you read is just PR. Wake. Up.

  4. Spend dollars from outside the US on good publicity project? Kind of a twofer if you ask me. Avoid the tax and get good press. Nice. But what happens when the sun goes down? Fuel cell building is sure to follow. And what happens to all those production lines once they ramp up? Yup, another product to ship to the US…$$$$$$

  5. China’s electricity generation is skyrocketing. At the end of 2012, China’s total installed coal-based power generation capacity was 758 GW.
    That 15 to 18 GW of solar power being installed this year represents about 2% of the current coal capacity.
    China accounts for half of the world’s coal consumption. China’s coal mines can’t supply coal fast enough for their coal plants; that is the main reason they are looking for other sources of energy. China plans to cap coal consumption in 2017 but that will be after a 50% increase over the preceding five years.

  6. Apple might just as well use that overseas cash for publicity and good will. We can’t get our hands on it, so Apple should use it for something positive instead of just letting it sit in a bank vault. If it can put even a little dent in China’s pollution problem it would be good copy for Apple.

  7. America the powerhouse economy was built on investment in the 40’s and 50’s. Big infrastructure to allow the economy to grow. China are doing that now with a modern day perspective. We have seen how powerful that made the States. I wonder what China is doing will change to the power balance in the future.
    Renewable energy is a no-brainer. Complaints about taking up space etc are mute considering how much damage conventional power systems have done in the past. Remember technologies improve and over time renewable energy will be more efficient and less imposing. That development only occurs with investment to improve on existing systems.

  8. “China has been installing more renewable-power capacity than fossil fuels for several years”

    Don’t for a second think that anything more than a tiny fraction of this is solar & wind, which are still tremendously expensive and difficult to accommodate within existing energy grid (requiring huge base-load generation capacity and a lot of new transmission infrastructure).

    If you want to know where China’s “renewables” are coming from, Search “three gorges dam” on Google Images, and contemplate the footprint of the project you see. It’s as tall as (and much thicker than) a 50-story office tower, as long as an expressway, and made of solid concrete. It’s flooded an area as large as a small state, and displaced one-and-a-half million people.

    No easy answers.

    1. Agent Smith was not wrong:
      “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

    2. Disposableidentity: Your post is purely disposable and erroneous speculation. You haven’t a clue about the exact mix of tech for the renewable power capacity. China’s capacity to manufacture solar is nearly equal to the rest of the world combined; from what I’ve seen on over a dozen trips to China, solar is in a very rapid deployment mode, especially in urban industrial settings. It is also being very visibly used for street and parking lot lighting. As for Three Gorges, that dam reached its full power capacity in 2012, so its numbers have nothing to do with the current development of renewable power. Please take your FUD somewhere else.

      1. I think you’re mis-interpreting my post as support for the status-quo. It most certainly is not. It was in support of fact and reality.

        Read the article again, but carefully. It made it sound as if this “new clean energy” is coming from wind & solar. But when you read the words (and look at other sources) it’s very clear that this impression is false.

        Due to China’s centralized power structure, they are able to pivot extremely quickly in a way we aren’t, and in many ways can’t, in the west. No question.

        The fact is that solar & wind *is* a tiny fraction of the total, and will be for some time. You can’t build a new coal-fired power plant each week, and build hydro projects at this scale, and expect to see solar & wind taking market share from coal & hydro any time soon.

  9. I think we should just burn more coal, oil and fossil fuel and live the American dream! There’s a whole industry in place for that with millions of jobs globally + huge stock values in the indexes to preserve. F$ck renewables – let’s race with what we have to the very end! /S

  10. “This is likely good direction, since in many cities and industrial areas of China right now, breathing clean air is a fantasy.”

    China may have a lot of ground to make up, but at least they’re doing something. Here in the US, instead of the greening of America we get endless arguments, excuses and delays in the name of the almighty dollar.

    1. The article made it sound like wind & solar are making a dent in China’s power generation. But the “clean energy” they’re adding in a significant way is hydro.

      The US started with 100% coal, and added renewables in the form of hydro during the 20th century.

      China started out with 100% coal and is adding renewables in the form of hydro during the 21st century.

      Because they’re doing it now, they’re getting credit for it. Because we’ve already taken advantage of our all of our hydro electric opportunities, we’re not getting credit for it.

      1. I don’t think the rate is comparable. China today is much more aggressively building non-fossil power sources, compared to any period in the US. Reasons were already mentioned (mono-party dictatorship with central control over everything, so they can turn on a dime, vs. two-party dictatorship with powerful industrial lobbies that thwart any alternative solutions).

        1. “China today is much more aggressively building non-fossil power sources, compared to any period in the US.”

          They are, it’s just that the vast majority of the non-fossil power they’re adding is hydro. Not necessarily a bad thing, but far from benign.

          I’ve seen first-hand the way their public policy can change overnight (electric scooters on every street in the north; a land-locked town becomes a seaport of 29 million people in half a generation; high-speed rail to most major cities seemingly overnight). So I didn’t mean to imply they aren’t adding wind & solar at an astonishing rate.

          But when you’re starting from less than 1%, and you’re building coal & hydro as fast as they are, you could build wind & solar at a truly astonishing rate just to stay put, or climb to a few percent of the total. Indeed, based on all the numbers I’ve seen, I believe that’s what’s happening.

          I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it. They should do it as fast as humanly possible for all of our sakes. As should we.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.