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China should lead in clean-energy debate: executive

Renewable energy is going to be one of the key goals for the Chinese government in the future and China should take a leading role in the clean energy debate, according to an executive with a Shanghai-based energy firm.

“Environmental issues have gotten to a tipping point,” said Felix Zhang, executive director of Envision Energy Ltd, an energy-service management company. “In terms of China taking an initiative and taking the lead on policy issues, it’s probably going to take a while.”

Zhang made his comments on Tuesday in an interview with China Daily after taking part in the Future of Energy Summit 2014, hosted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

BNEF, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg LP, provides analysis, tools and data for individuals, investors and companies looking for information on the changes in the global energy sector.

The Monday through Wednesday event at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan brings together members of Fortune 500 companies, clean-energy experts and international and state officials to discuss the current state of the energy sector.

Zhang said a disconnect between domestic Chinese firms and foreign companies has hurt China’s ability to promote an international dialogue on clean-energy technology and create partnerships on clean-energy initiatives.

“Going forward what we need to be focused on is partnership,” Zhang said. “We can borrow a lot of technology from various different industries, and whether you’re a technology company, infrastructure player, etc, it is very important that you work with the local partners to get a fast track into the Chinese market.”

“It hasn’t been easy for a foreign company coming into China, mainly because the understanding of local markets is still very important in China,” Zhang said. “That relationship affects government policies, from the central government all the way down to local municipalities.”

China’s’ clean-energy investments totaled $54.2 billion in 2013, or nearly one-third of the entire sum invested by the G20 major economies, according to an April report from the Pew Charitable Trust. Nearly 90 percent of China’s total investment went to either wind or solar energy.

Global investment in clean energy dropped to $254 billion in 2013, an 11 percent decrease from the $286 billion recorded in 2012. However, BNEF forecasts a rebound in worldwide investment for 2014.

Michael Liebreich, the founder of BNEF, said on Tuesday that BNEF expects China’s interest in new energy technology to begin paying notable dividends within the next decade, despite the fact that “[China] is still building nearly one coal fire-power station every week”.

“China has had between $50 billion and $60 billion in energy investment in the last three years,” Liebreich said. “Yes, it’s down by a few percent but China is now investing more in clean energy than all of Europe.”

“Between 2020 and 2030, China will be dismantling more coal than they are adding and we will see China’s net additions of coal going negative,” Liebreich said.

Despite a 6 percent drop in the latest full-year figures, China’s contribution to energy technology and infrastructure was by far the largest in total by any one country in the past calendar year.

The US and Japan helped round out the world’s top three, accounting for $36.7 billion and $28.6 billion, respectively.

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