Steely Resolve to Improve Efficiency
China's energy use, production, and ambitions are best captured by superlatives: The country is the world's largest energy consumer, and leading source of greenhouse gas emissions.
To power its tremendous economic growth, China has called on every fuel, every technology. It is the largest producer of coal and its greatest consumer, and yet China has more nuclear reactors under construction than any other nation. Its growing appetite for oil has kept gasoline prices high around the globe. And yet China's commitment to wind and solar power is so outsized that its young industries are now among the largest in the world.
When China's expected next president, Vice President Xi Jinping, meets this week in Washington, D.C. with President Barack Obama, energy disputes—solar industry subsidies, China's oil imports from Iran—may well be on the agenda.
(Related: Amid U.S.-China Energy Tension, "Clean Coal" Spurs Teamwork)
But what does China's rapidly growing and changing energy landscape really look like?
Photographer Toby Smith of London spent two years working to gain access to China's new world of energy, in an effort to capture images rarely seen in the West. He sought to document not only the sources of the pollution that darkens the skies of Beijing and other cities, but the efforts to forge a cleaner energy future.
This blast furnace within a Baogang Group steel plant in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, is emblematic of China's emissions problems as the world leader in steelmaking, one of the most energy-intensive industries. In the past decade, China's steel industry has grown at the breakneck pace of 17 percent per year. Yet efficiency has improved since the 1990s, thanks in part to adoption of waste-heat recovery technology and a process known as top-pressure recovery for blast furnaces, which involves recycling fuel to produce electricity.
China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pledged to use an "iron hand" to push efficiency improvements further, not least of all by forcing the closure of many small, inefficient steel mills. The country's latest five-year plan, for 2011-2015, estimates the Chinese steel industry will see annual growth slow to 5 to 6 percent.
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.
Pictures: A Rare Look Inside China's Energy Machine
A photographer gains an inside look at China's massive power complex, and at efforts by the world's largest energy consumer to spur cleaner future growth.