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Renewable Energy Plans Taking Shape in China and India

China and India have proven resistant to international pressure to adopt emissions targets. But the two giant countries, together representing a third of the world's population, also aren't totally ignoring their problems. A series of recent announcements shows that both are casting about for the most cost-effective way to develop new energy.

For India, that may be the power of sunlight. The country has just settled on a plan to build 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020, which would make it one of the world's most active markets for solar companies. After hitting the 20GW target, India's government intends to build another 180GW by 2050, for a total of 200GW.

China is also planning on massive solar deployments, but appears to be concentrating more on its domestic wind industry at the moment. The country just started construction on what it calls its "Three Gorges in the Air", a reference to Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower facility.

There have already been some inconsistencies in the announcements about these plans -- China, for instance, touted the beginning of its wind farm twice, perhaps hoping to get more credit for the same efforts. And in some ways both countries' plans are still more noise than substance; neither has put enough renewable energy incentives in place to make clean technology more attractive than coal, which both countries predominantly rely upon.

Problems that have already clipped the heels of Western countries also await. China already has a significant amount of wind power installed, but can't use all of it because it lacks enough transmission infrastructure. Both China and India are physically expansive, and it may not be a simple task to transmit power from the barren regions that are sunniest and windiest to population centers like Delhi and Shanghai.

But both China and India also look more likely to stick to their targets than other countries, if only because their energy demands are rising so quickly. India alone may triple or quadruple its needs over the next two decades, according to various analysts, including the International Energy Agency. Even 20GW of solar power will be only a small fraction of overall demand.

And that's why announcements about renewable energy development will likely keep coming out of these two countries. They need the power anyway, and adopting renewables gives the appearance of action -- even if it's not enough, in the grand scheme of things, to make much of a difference.