Perched on the ochre scrub of Argentina’s sunbaked Puna Jujeña plateau, the $400 million Cauchari power station is the world’s highest-altitude solar farm at 13,000 ft (about 4,000 meters) above sea level. In Kenya’s volcano-strewn Rift Valley, a newly green-lit, super-efficient electrical substation will soon funnel clean power from the nearby Olkaria Geothermal Plant about 50 miles (80 km) to downtown Nairobi. Some 14 miles off blustery northeastern Scotland, Moray East is set to become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, helping to heat and light up to a million homes.
Three distinct renewable energy projects utilizing cutting edge technology in far-flung corners of the globe sharing one uniting characteristic: Chinese finance. Over the past five years, Chinese bankrolling of green energy projects overseas has soared as the world’s number two economy and number one polluter rebrands itself as an environmental champion.
Not only is China today the world’s largest producer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles, but it has also been the top investor in clean energy for nine out of the last ten years, according to the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. Since 2014, Chinese equity investment has supported a total of 12,622 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar projects in South and Southeast Asia alone, according to new research by Greenpeace. That’s the equivalent of 21 standard coal plants or enough to power New York City. The shift from simply exporting to bankrolling green tech—driven by both a drying up of domestic subsidies in China and new incentives to invest abroad—is a boon since “it means China really cares about the future profitability of each project,” says Greenpeace campaigner Liu Junyan.