China’s massive rollout of renewable energy is accelerating, its investments in the sector growing so large that international climate watchdogs now expect the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions to peak years earlier than anticipated—possibly as soon as this year.
China installed 217 gigawatts worth of solar power last year alone, a 55% increase, according to new government data. That is more than 500 million solar panels and well above the total installed solar capacity of the U.S. They appeared everywhere from the deserts of Inner Mongolia to the mountains of southwest China to rooftops across the country, including on the Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square.
Wind-energy installation additions were 76 gigawatts last year, more than the rest of the world combined. That amounted to more than 20,000 new turbines across the country, including the world’s largest, planted on towers in the sea off China’s east coast.
The low-carbon capacity additions, which also included hydropower and nuclear, were for the first time large enough that their power output could cover the entire annual increase in Chinese electricity demand, analysts say. The dynamic suggests that coal-fired generation—which accounts for 70% of overall emissions for the world’s biggest polluter—is set to decline in the years to come, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency and Lauri Myllyvirta , the Helsinki-based lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
China’s expanding renewables footprint is shaping the global response to climate change. Its companies are the leading manufacturers of clean-energy technology, from solar panels and wind turbines to electric vehicles. That is stoking concerns in the rest of the industrialised world about depending on China for their energy supplies in the future.
At the same time, China’s deployment of renewables at home is breathing new life into international climate diplomacy . Its rapid emissions growth long provided fodder for critics who said Beijing wasn’t committed to fighting climate change or supporting the Paris accord , the landmark climate agreement that calls for governments to attempt to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures. Now, analysts and officials say Beijing’s efforts are lending momentum to the Paris process, which requires governments to draft new emissions plans every five years.
“An early peak would have a lot of symbolic value and send a signal to the world that we’ve turned a corner,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Oslo-based Center for International Climate and Environmental Research.
In 2020, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged that the country’s emissions would begin falling before 2030 and hit net zero before 2060, part of its plan prepared under the Paris accord. He also said China would have 1,200 gigawatts of total solar- and wind-power capacity by the end of this decade. The country is six years ahead of schedule: China reached 1,050 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity at the end of 2023, and the China Electricity Council forecast last month that capacity would top 1,300 gigawatts by the end of this year.
“China’s acceleration was extraordinary,” said Fatih Birol , the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
Chinese authorities publish regular data on energy consumption and generation but not overall greenhouse-gas emissions. Transition Zero, a U.K.-based nonprofit that uses satellite images to monitor industrial activity and emissions in China, says the official data are “broadly aligned and consistent” with theirs.
Once the peak arrives, some analysts expect an emissions plateau to follow rather than a rapid fall in the following years. That is a problem, scientists say, because the world’s major emitters must sharply cut global emissions this decade—by 43% compared with 2019—to fulfill the Paris accord.
Climate Action Tracker, a scientific consortium that evaluates governments’ emissions plans, rates China’s current policies as “highly insufficient” to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal . Its latest analysis, published in November, says China’s emissions should peak by 2025. If wind and solar installations can average 300 gigawatts a year—as they did last year—China’s emissions should fall significantly by the end of the decade, the consortium says. The actions and policies of the U.S., where emissions have been falling, were graded as “insufficient.”
Still, moving China’s timeline for an overall emissions peak forward could shave off around 0.3 to 0.4 degrees Celsius of projected global warming if emissions started to decline next decade, analysts say. Emissions plans submitted to date under the Paris accord would put the world on track to warm by 2.5 degrees Celsius this century, a United Nations Environment Program report said in November.
China is still building coal-fired power plants , fuelling criticism from Western officials that it is locking in carbon-dioxide emissions years into the future. Beijing has been telling Western officials that the new plants won’t be as polluting as they fear. They are replacing older, higher-emitting plants, and will run far below full capacity, used largely to maintain electric-grid stability as China generates more of its power from intermittent wind and solar. In November, China unveiled a system of capacity payments for coal-fired plants that will allow them to earn money even when they are running as backup power sources. Xi said in 2021 that China would begin to phase down its coal consumption starting in 2026.
The exact timing of China’s peak depends on factors such as economic growth and weather in the next few years, analysts say. Growth is expected to slow following China’s real-estate sector slump —unless Beijing undertakes a major new program of economic stimulus that would boost industrial emissions. Another spell of drought this summer would push the country’s coal plants to run harder to replace lost hydropower generation.
The most certain variable in the equation is the breakneck pace of China’s renewable-energy rollout, which analysts expect will continue to add 200 to 300 gigawatts of new wind and solar capacity a year. The investments in renewable energy have become a major driver of the Chinese economy. The country’s clean-energy spending totaled $890 billion last year, up 40%. Without that growth, investment in China would have been flat as the country reels from the slump in its real-estate sector, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
The investments include clean-energy installations and the construction of enormous factories to produce solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles—turning the country into the leading manufacturer of clean tech. Its factories in those sectors now have plenty of unused capacity . The adoption of electric vehicles is happening so rapidly that analysts say peak gasoline demand in China was already reached last year.
At the United Nations COP28 climate conference in Dubai in November, Xie Zhenhua , then China’s climate envoy , said the government would calculate the year and absolute volume of the country’s emissions peak. He also said Beijing is drawing up its next emissions plan under the Paris accord.
“Our country will do as it’s said and strive to do even better,” he said. “I have faith.”
Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.
The chip company that is cashing in on the market’s artificial-intelligence obsession seems to many investors like an unstoppable force
Nvidia ’s historic run is minting profits for investors big and small . Many are betting the boom is just beginning.
They are piling into trades that the chipmaker’s shares, which have more than tripled over the past year , are headed still higher. Some have turned to the options market to look for ways to turbocharge their bets on artificial intelligence after a blockbuster earnings report sent the stock up 17% over the past two days.
The exuberance reflects hope that the company is the vanguard of wide adoption of artificial intelligence—and an intense fear of missing out among investors who have sat on the sidelines while the company’s valuation has eclipsed $2 trillion .
With the help of Nvidia, stocks have stormed into 2024 . The S&P 500, which has chalked up fresh records in recent weeks, is up 6.7%. That is the index’s second-best performance for this time period over the past 10 years. The gains were only surpassed by an 11% increase in 2019.
Nvidia has contributed to about a quarter of those gains, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
The Nasdaq, too, is up 6.6% this year and neared a record Friday. The tech-heavy index has been boosted by Nvidia, which this week tacked on $277 billion in additional market value, along with six other tech titans collectively known as the Magnificent Seven.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 3.8% this year and has hit repeated records in recent weeks.
“You look at these numbers and what this company’s done—it’s almost without precedent,” said Mike Ogborne, founder of San Francisco-based hedge fund Ogborne Capital Management, who counts Nvidia among his top five biggest holdings . “It is nothing short of amazing.”
Ogborne compared AI with the launch of the internet more than two decades ago, which kick-started a technology craze that lasted years.
“It’s exciting,” Ogborne said. “It’s great for America.”
Unfazed by questions about AI
Tamar June in Reno, Nev., is one investor along for Nvidia’s furious stock-market ascent. Since the 1990s, the 61-year-old software-company chief executive has been buying shares of tech firms, including Apple , Microsoft , Cisco, Intel and Oracle . June had been familiar with Nvidia for some time but in recent years kept reading about the chip company in the news. She liked that it was profitable and growing.
June decided to purchase some shares in 2022 at about $260, then watched the stock erase more than half of its value later that year. She held on, knowing that Nvidia’s graphics processing units were in high demand for cloud computing. Then, an AI frenzy hit the stock market in 2023, sending Nvidia’s stock soaring.
Now, Nvidia shares are closing in on $800, and June is looking for opportunities to buy more. She isn’t fazed by worries that the AI boom is bound to come crashing down. June experienced the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis—and watched stocks bounce back to new highs.
“I think it’s still in the beginning stages,” June said of AI developments. “There’s still a lot of headroom for technology because our whole future depends on it.”
$20 billion in options
A herd of investors chased Nvidia while it raced toward its $2 trillion valuation.
At Robinhood Markets , Nvidia was the most purchased stock by customers on a net basis and received the heaviest notional trading volumes over the past month, according to Stephanie Guild, head of investment strategy at the digital brokerage.
The rise drove many traders to pile into the company’s options, a risky corner of the market notorious for boom-and-bust trades.
Nvidia has also morphed into one of the most popular trades in this market, with traders placing more than $20 billion in stock-options bets tied to the company over the past week, according to Cboe Global Markets data. That was more than what they spent on Tesla , Meta Platforms , Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet combined.
Call options, contracts that confer the right to buy shares at a specific price, were particularly popular. And many of the trades appeared to suggest that investors were fearful of missing out on bigger gains to come. Some of the most active trades Friday were calls pegged to the shares jumping to $800 or $850, up from their closing price of $788.17. Betting against the shares has been a losing game , leading many investors to throw in the towel on bearish wagers.
The values of many of these options bets exploded while Nvidia soared, rewarding those who piled in. The big gains also enticed others to join in the trades while the stock’s rally continued.
“There’s a snowball effect,” said Henry Schwartz, a vice president at exchange-operator Cboe Global Markets, of the options activity surrounding Nvidia.
Ahead of the tech behemoth’s earnings report Wednesday, options pegged to the shares jumping to $1,300 —around double where they were trading at the time—were some of the most popular trades.
And for some investors, the 16% one-day jump in Nvidia’s share price Thursday wasn’t enough. They sought even bigger returns and piled into several niche exchange-traded funds that offer magnified exposure to Nvidia stock.
The GraniteShares 2x Long NVDA Daily ETF has taken in almost half a billion dollars from investors on a net basis since launching late in 2022. The fund’s shares have more than doubled in 2024 and have surged nearly 650% since inception.
There have been few signs of profit-taking so far. Investors added a net $263 million to the fund in the past month. The fund’s cousin, which turbocharges bearish bets against Nvidia, has been much less popular.
The euphoria surrounding Nvidia has spread to other stocks, too. Shares of Super Micro Computer , a much smaller company worth less than $50 billion, popped more than 30% Thursday after Nvidia’s earnings report. Traders spent more than $5 billion on options tied to the company, more than what they spent on Tesla this week. Tesla is worth about 13 times as much as the company.
Software that is eating the world
Nvidia’s continued, rapid ascent has stunned even early bulls on semiconductors and generative AI.
Atreides Management founder Gavin Baker, who started covering Nvidia as an analyst at Fidelity in 2000, reminded investors in his Boston hedge fund in an early 2021 letter of Marc Andreessen ’s adage that software was eating the world. “Today, AI is replacing software,” he wrote.
Atreides started buying Nvidia shares in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to regulatory filings.
The wager proved profitable. But as Nvidia shares kept soaring, Baker started selling. Atreides was out of Nvidia by the end of the second quarter of 2023. “This has been a painful mistake,” Baker wrote in a June 2023 letter to his clients, when Nvidia was trading north of $420 a share.
Atreides’s stake in competitor Advanced Micro Devices has helped alleviate the pain from missing out on larger gains. The firm made nearly a quarter billion last year alone on AMD, which it continues to hold along with several other related bets.
Michael Hannosh, a 20-year-old college student in Chicago, said he first purchased shares of Nvidia in August 2022, when the stock traded below $180. Nvidia was one of his first-ever stock purchases. He had built a custom computer for videogaming and used a lot of Nvidia parts.
Hannosh said he kept the shares until last March, then sold them for a roughly 30% profit. He later bought a few more shares at about $230 and sold them over the course of the next several days at a profit.
The shares have tripled since.
“It’s blown my f—ing mind to bits. It’s insane,” said Hannosh. “I really wish I held it, obviously.”