Rizhao is not the most well known city in China, but it is rising in fame as a promising example of citywide solar energy use. With a name that means "City of Sunshine," they have sure lived up to it - 99% of central district houses are using solar water heaters, as well as more than 30% of suburban and village houses in the surrounding area. This amounts to 500,000 square meters of solar water heaters, doing the work of half a megawatt of electricity. The trend extends to 6,000 houses using solar cooking facilities and 60,000 greenhouses heated using solar heat collectors. In addition, a majority of city lights and traffic signals use photovoltaics.
This is not some futuristic city on the rise; Rizhao is just "a small, ordinary Chinese city with per capita incomes even lower than in most other cities in the region." Credit for solar energy's popularity goes to the government, which has undertaken a tremendous campaign for the use of these technologies. Instead of subsidizing the use of solar heaters (which they could not afford in any case), they invested in research and development to lower the cost of the appliances, putting them at price parity with their electric counterparts. At the cheaper price, the use of solar water heaters becomes a no-brainer, saving the average household $120 a year. In addition, the city now mandates solar heating installations be incorporated into all new buildings.
These initiatives, along with other quality government promotions, has made the solar heater a part of regular life. A government official stated that, in Rizhao, they no longer needed "to persuade people anymore to make the choice." As pollution troubles rise to the forefront of public consciousness across China, especially in wake of preparations for the Beijing Olympics, many are looking to the "City of Sunshine" for inspiration. Already Rizhao has been put on the top 10 list of cities with good air quality in China, and awarded the title of the State Environmental Protection Agency's "Environmental Protection Model City". With so much bad press about China's environmental plight, it is important to recognize the positive work being done to improve environmental conditions. I hope my local government will start pushing as hard for solar energy use!
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