China's Renewable Energy Boom Casts a Long Shadow over Mongolia www.mongoliaweekly.org
China is going big on renewable power out west, with plans to carpet parts of the Gobi desert in solar panels and wind turbines over the next few years. We’re talking 455 gigawatts of clean energy capacity, a buildout so huge it will be visible from outer space.
For a neighboring country like Mongolia, this amounts to a seismic shift happening right on the doorstep. Mongolians have grown used to exporting coal north to China’s power plants and factories.
But Beijing’s new energy priorities could seriously dent demand for Mongolian coal. By 2030, those sprawling renewable energy bases are projected to supply over a third of China’s electricity needs.
So where does this leave Mongolia? With some skilled policy maneuvers, Ulaanbaatar has an opportunity to hitch the economic future to Asia’s renewables juggernaut.
Mongolia boasts many of the minerals – copper, lithium, rare earths – needed to manufacture wind turbines and solar panels. With the right investments in processing factories and supply chain links, Mongolia could become a key supplier to China’s renewable Gold Rush.
Geographically too, Mongolia is blessed by its position next door to hundreds of gigawatts of emissions-free power. Ulaanbaatar can now import cheap renewable electricity from China instead of building more polluting coal plants. And get this: Importing Chinese solar power may soon be cheaper for Mongolia than mining its own coal!
But if Mongolia’s leadership fails to skillfully navigate this energy transition, the country risks heightened dependence on China as coal exports founder. Beijing may use its economic leverage to pull Ulaanbaatar closer into its orbit. What’s clear is that for better or worse, Mongolia’s fate looks increasingly tied to the greening of western China’s deserts.