While the Bush administration has dropped geothermal energy like a hot potato (to the chagrin of American environmentalists), China's program is picking up steam. Last week, TIME Magazine reported on an "ancient Chinese city [that] might just have the geothermal resources to become the Reykjavik of the East." (What is geothermal energy? Primer here.) Xianyang, not far from Xian and its famed terracotta warriors, is a regular coal burning bad air nightmare. But it's now poised for a major change. Designated as "China's official geothermal city," in December Xianyang saw completion of the first phase of a massive geothermal heating project. The project is being undertaken by Shaanxi Green Energy, a private sector Chinese-Icelandic/Nordic joint venture. If all goes well, the company's geothermal-powered heating system will be the biggest in the world, and Xianyang's air will be a heck of a lot cleaner. As Asgeir Margeirsson of the Icelandic/Nordic side of the JV puts it, "Every day that we utilize geothermal energy instead of burning coal is a good day."Xianyang is big, and it's just the start. Driven by major concerns about energy security, pollution, and climate change, the Chinese government is working to achieve aggressive renewable energy targets: by 2020, China aims to get 16% of its total energy supply from renewables — up from 7% in 2005. Most of this is slated to come from small hydro, wind, and biomass. Geothermal doesn't even make it onto your average graph visually representing China's energy future. But it's on the long-term horizon, and the sector is definitely heating up. With geothermal resources in almost every province, it's just a matter of time before they're tapped. And nothing telegraphs intention like Beijing's plan to use geothermal pumps during the 2008 Beijing - Green - Olympics.
For more information on geothermal, check out Las Vegas Does The Geothermal Strip and Is Geothermal Energy the Way of the Future? (which includes a short TreeHugger briefing on how geothermal energy works). For more information on China's sustainable energy aspirations, check out China Leads World in Renewable Energy Investment, China Could be World's Biggest Wind Power by 2020, and China's Richest Man: A Solar Magnate.