Renewable sources of energy, which is harvested from natural resources, are self-replenishing and cannot be depleted over time. In contrast, the sources of non-renewable energy are not self-replenishing and diminish over time. Renewable energy is the fastest-growing source of industrial and domestic power in both developed and developing countries. In 2014, renewable energy accounted for approximately 24% of the total electricity production globally. Various countries harness and use renewable energy differently because of varying cultural values, technological advancement, and geographic location. This paper will reflect on factors that show the reason China and Iceland have taken different paths in generation and use of renewable energy.
In their article titled, “Present situation and future prospect of renewable energy in China”, Zhang et al. delve into the state of exploitation of renewable energy in China. For decades, China has been relying on fossil fuels to power its massive industries and domestic energy needs. By 2015, China’s energy needs had grown extensively such that it would be no longer sustainable to fully depend on fossil fuel (Zhang et al., 365). In order to supplement the energy gap, it explored and invested in other sources such coal. For now, coal is the primary source of the Chinese industrial and domestic energy and accounts for 70% of the national power supply. China’s reliance on coal as a source of energy is unsustainable, inefficient, and degrades the physical environment (Zhang et al., 865). In order for China to reduce the burden of over-relying on fossil fuels, the government has been investing in research and development to innovate new technologies for harnessing alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal energy. Currently, renewable energy user index (REUI) shows that China lags behind globally in exploiting the sources of renewable energy (Zhang et al., 865).
In sharp contrast to the Chinese current energy situation, Iceland, an equally developed country, derives most of its power from renewable sources, and especially hydro and geothermal. In their report titled, “Iceland’s Renewable Energy Sources & Climate Change”, Roberts and Conway note that Iceland derives 72% of its power from renewable energy sources (2). Iceland has invested heavily into design of efficient hybrid rotor blades that maximally convert the wind and hydro energy into electrical power; a few countries have reached this height of innovation. In contrast, the Chinese, despite their infinite engineering and technological capabilities, have failed to exploit their vast quantities of renewable sources of energy. Although Iceland has unpredictable weather conditions, it still harness hydropower from glacial runoff and trapped geothermal heat to produce electricity, which are not reliable sources of energy (Roberts and Conway 3).
The Chinese national values, which encourage independent decision-making, reflect their lack of interest in investing in renewable sources of energy. In the last two decades, the country has focused more on industrialization and less on conserving the environment. In order to sustain its ambitions of being the leading economy in the world, China uses coal to produce cheap energy to power its massive industries. In the process, the country has disregarded the resultant environmental degradation that arises from coal mining and excessive carbon emissions. As the government continues neglecting the environment, the Chinese are slowly being entrenched into the mentality of relying on cheap sources of energy (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions par n.d). As a result, the wind, hydro, and geothermal resources, which are abundant key sources of renewable energy in China, have remained unexploited for years. The Chinese seems to put more value on economic gains rather than on the means of achieving them. The country lacks functional environmental protection frameworks that would control the use of renewable and non-renewable sources of energy.
Iceland’s culture of self-dependency and positive approach to social welfare mirrors its preference of renewable energy sources. The country has extensively harnessed energy sources such as hydropower and geothermal to supply cheap energy to domestic and industrial users. The Iceland’s energy policy involves protecting nature and the environment, providing people with social benefits, upholding the values of economic security, and achieving balanced growth in all sectors. In particular, the Iceland’s indigenous geothermal and hydropower infrastructure have become the country’s mainstay in the production of affordable energy for all citizens.
Geographically, China and Iceland are in different parts of the world, which is a reason for their differing ability to exploit and use renewable sources of energy. The different locations of the two countries accord them key advantages and disadvantages of harnessing natural sources of energy. China lies in the northeastern part of East Asia, and most parts of the country, including Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, receive vast amounts of solar power (Zhang et al., 868). As a result, the country is now realizing the potential in exploration of solar energy. Owing to the fact that China has been a global manufacturer leader in the solar photovoltaic industry, it can easily switch to being the best producer of solar energy. China also has huge wind energy potential due to the vast amounts of tropical winds that blow across the country throughout the year. Like the solar energy, the Chinese wind industry has experienced a rapid growth in the last two decades. In 2015, the country’s wind power production reached 30.5 gigawatts, which accounted for 0.48% of the world’s total wind energy (Zhang et al., 867). Moreover, the Asian nation has considerable quantities of geothermal, which accounts for 7.9% of the world’s total reserves.
Similar to China, Iceland has several geographical advantages that enable it to harness renewable energy resources. Iceland is home to dozens of active volcanoes and is surrounded by glaciers and ice caves. Geologically, Iceland rests on the division of the two largest tectonic plates in the world: the Eurasia and North America (Roberts and Conway 3). The two plates are constantly in motion, and the movements lead to volcanic eruptions, which result in generation of geothermal energy. Iceland has further used advanced technology to drill more geothermal wells and generate electrical power. Global warming has also contributed to increased glacial runoff, which lead to melting of icebergs and production of enough water for hydroelectric power generation. Hydroelectricity continues to be the main source of power in Iceland, accounting for 72% of the country’s renewable energy, whereas geothermal energy accounts for approximately 28 % (Roberts and Conway 3). Unlike China, Iceland has not fully exploited its wind energy potential. Iceland experiences strong winds in most parts of the year, yet it lacks industrial wind turbines capable of generating power to the national grid (Nawri et al. 292). Solar energy is also virtually non-existent in Iceland because the country receives minimal sunlight throughout the year.
Another reason for the difference in the exploitation of renewable resources in China and Iceland is attitude. While Icelanders perceive renewable energy as the only alternative, China has other options of using fossil fuels. Both countries have adopted divergent routes in harnessing and using power because they have different perspectives and expectations towards the benefits of renewable energy. Iceland pioneered hydroelectric energy in 1904, followed by the geothermal in the 1970s. These timelines are indicative of the country’s commitment to consistently use available sources of renewable energy. Besides, Iceland’s population and industrial energy capacity is just a fraction of the Chinese power needs, meaning that the energy requirements of the two countries are vastly different. The European country’s population is just 350,000 people, compared to China’s 1.4 billion; thus, Iceland renewable energy sources are sufficient for its small population and industrial load capacity. In contrast, the Chinese energy gap may make them to feel the need to use readily available and convertible fossil fuels to satisfy their much-needed industrial and domestic power.
The consumption of renewable energy in Iceland and China is vastly different because of geographical, cultural, and technological factors. Both countries occupy different geological zones, which determine the abundance of particular source of renewable energy. Iceland has invested massively into exploitation of renewable energy resources, making it the most obvious source of power in the country. In addition, its solar and wind energy sources are inadequate; thus, it relies on hydro and geothermal as the only alternatives. In contrast, China is richly endowed with vast natural resources; however, it continues to over-rely on coal as a cheap source of bulky power. Values and traditions reflect the difference in the use of renewable energy between China and Iceland. Iceland has established environmental-friendly laws that make the use of green energy a necessity. In contrast, China has not set up functional legal frameworks of guiding and controlling people on production and use of renewable energy.