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China's Solar Valley: biggest solar energy production base in world

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China is in the process of building the biggest solar energy production base in the world. Called "Solar Valley," it's the nation's answer to America's Silicon Valley.

China is in the process of building what it calls "the biggest solar energy production base in the world."

Called "Solar Valley," the experimental venture has claimed the land of tens of thousands of farmers in an effort to construct China's answer to California's Silicon Valley, according to a new Washington Post report.

The $740 million project, which is located near the northern city of Dezhou, is supposed to demonstrate how China can both promote and profit from cleantech.

It has attracted some 100 companies and already inspired the construction of factories, a research center and wide boulevards illuminated by solar-powered lights.

But it's a difficult vision to reconcile with China's growing manufacturing economy. The Post's Andrew Higgins explains:

Short of a calamitous economic collapse or a game-changing technological breakthrough, China's chances look slim: Its mostly coal- and oil-fueled economy is growing so fast that its real but relatively modest green gains simply can't keep up.

Higgins outlines the catch-22 that Dezhou city officials are in: they have spent $10 million to install solar lighting along miles of road and erected billboards advertising low-carbon living as the city's 600,000 residents bought twice as many new cars as the year before.

More interesting takeaways from Higgins' report:

  • Dezhou has positioned itself as a hub for greentech, calling itself China Solar City.
  • Last year, China invested $34 billion in solar panels, wind turbines and other alternative energy tech. That's almost twice as much as the U.S.
  • Goldman Sachs has invested $100 million in local power Himin Solar Energy Group, the world's largest supplier of solar water heaters.
  • China aims to get 15 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric dams, by 2020. (It's at 9 percent now.) The challenge: increasing coal consumption offsets gains.

Will China take the lead on renewables?

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure