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Clean energy becomes China’s main economic growth driver

A Chinese dragon between wind turbines
Graphic: Sean Creighton/The Progress Playbook

The clean energy sector was the single-largest driver of economic growth in China in 2023, accounting for 40% of GDP growth, according to a study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

The industry contributed a record CNY11.4 trillion ($1.6 trillion) to the world’s second-largest economy in 2023, driving all of the growth in investment and a larger share of economic expansion than any other sector, CREA analysts Lauri Myllyvirta and Qi Qin wrote.

Within the sector, solar power, electric vehicles and batteries were the main drivers.

According to the International Energy Agency’s estimates, China will have 1,200 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind and solar energy capacity by the end of 2024 — a full six years earlier than the government had targeted.

To back those facilities up, the country almost quadrupled its battery storage capacity in 2023 to 31.4 gigawatts, according to statistics from National Energy Administration, per Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, China’s vehicle sales rose 12% to a record 30.1 million units in 2023, driven by surging global demand for electric cars.

The CREA analysis found that China’s $890 billion investment in the clean energy sector through 2023 “is almost as large as total global investments in fossil fuel supply in 2023 – and similar to the GDP of Switzerland or Turkey.”

Without the acceleration from the clean energy industry, China’s economy would’ve missed the government’s growth target of “around 5%”. Economic output would’ve expanded by only 3%, instead the 5.2% rate that was recorded.

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