Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Embargo Period

5-17-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Engineering and Public Policy

Advisor(s)

Inês M.L. Azevedo

Second Advisor

Lee Branstetter

Abstract

This dissertation includes three studies that examine the remarkable rise of China’s renewable energy industry and its technological contributions to the global industry. China has emerged as the world’s largest carbon emitter by a large margin, and many of its cities experience high levels of air pollution. The Chinese government has turned to wind – and later solar – as alternative power sources to help decarbonize its electricity system and ameliorate increasingly urgent air pollution problems. Through these efforts, China has markedly expanded the share of renewable energy in its energy mix, and in the process absorbed a fair amount of relatively advanced technology, establishing itself as a competitive location to manufacture clean power equipment. In short order China has bolstered its international standing as a renewable energy powerhouse. The first study evaluates the question of whether China's wind industry has become an important source of clean energy technology innovation. Results indicate that while China has delivered enormous progress in terms of wind capacity, the outcomes were more limited in terms of innovation and cost competitiveness. Chinese wind turbine manufacturers have secured few international patents and achieved moderate learning rates relative to the global industry’s historical learning rate. The success of China’s transition to a low-carbon energy system will be key to achieve the global level of emissions reductions needed to avoid large negative consequences from climate change. The second study shows that China made progress in bringing down the levelized cost of wind electricity and cost of carbon mitigation. However, widespread grid-connection issues and wind curtailment rates caused much higher-than-anticipated costs of renewable energy integration. China has emerged as the global manufacturing center for solar photovoltaic products, and Chinese firms have entered all stages of the supply chain in short order. The third study provides detailed expert assessments of the technological and nontechnological factors that led to the surprised success of China’s silicon photovoltaic industry. Expert judgments suggest that continued declines in in module and system costs and improvements in performance will allow solar photovoltaic to be competitive with fossil fuels in China.

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