Imagine not being able to go outside to go to work or school. Imagine the air so filled with smog that visibility is reduced to just a few blocks.
This isn’t a strange, hypothetical situation created by fear mongers trying to push clean energy on the world. It’s the reality of some of China’s largest cities. Last month, Beijing ordered government vehicles off the roads and told residents to stay inside because fine airborne particulates reached 993 micrograms per cubic meter, 40 times the World Health Organization guideline of 25. As the country grows its spews more particles into the air, filling wide swaths of the country with pollution we wouldn’t think of tolerating today in the U.S.
Pollution isn’t new in China, it’s only getting worse. China is expecting to build 160 new coal-fired plants in the next four years, adding to the 620 already in operation. Those plants will power factories that also spew pollution into the air, compounding the smog in major cities. A similar trend is taking place in India, although it’s a few years behind the more advanced Chinese economy. Between the two countries there will be four new coal plants built every week. Pollution isn’t getting better any time soon.
The urge to grow at all cost with unexpected side affects isn’t a new worldly phenomenon. The U.S. went through a similar phase in the middle of the last century. The Environmental Protection Agency was created by President Nixon after cities like Pittsburgh where covered with smoke (see photos here) and the public demanded better living conditions. China’s problem has reached a turning point and now is an opportunity for investors. The country is putting billions of dollars into clean energy and you can get on board.
China’s next step
China may not be built upon the same free market system that the U.S. is. But, the Chinese government will respond when its country is in need. It has controlled its currency to help manufacturers stay ahead, controlled the exports of its rare-earth minerals to induce high-tech manufacturing to stay at home, and it is willing to stimulate the economy if even the slightest decline in growth occurs.
These aren’t free market actions, but China’s government will act in what it thinks are the best interests of the country. We’re starting to see that renewable energy will be a big piece of that future, driven by the pollution that coats its cities.
How you can profit
China’s energy needs are exploding and that has driven the creation of a lot of the pollution we see in major cities. To combat this China has become one of the biggest investors in renewable energy in the world. A United Nations report released last year said that China invested $52 billion in renewable energy in 2011, more than the U.S., and about one-fifth of the world’s total investment.
Wind power has led the early green charge in China. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that China installed 15.9 GW of wind power last year, 35% of the global onshore construction. Sinovel, Vestas, and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. are the top three turbine makers, and Siemens AG (ADR) (NYSE:SI) is a big name trying to catch up. The company has been late to the onshore boom, but it may be able to take advantage of its global lead in the offshore market, which provides energy closer to users in many cases.