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Asian Development Bank

50 climate solutions from cities in the People's Republic of China


Qingdao is utilizing waste heat sources to reduce reliance on coal and cut air pollution. Together with ambitious energy efficiency programs and large renewable investments, the city is making strides towards meeting its low-carbon and low-air pollution goals.

Around 9 million people live in the coastal city of Qingdao, which has suffered from high pollution levels, like many other coal-powered cities in the PRC. To combat this and drive investment in green growth, the city is pursuing energy efficiency and clean energy innovations on an enormous scale.

Regulations covering energy efficiency standards in buildings, heating energy consumption limits, and financial incentives have all been put in place to help the city on its low-carbon transition. More than CNY3.65 billion has been invested in renewable energy systems and building retrofits since 2012, more than half of which came from public funds.


Combining energy efficiency with renewable energy investment is not a groundbreaking strategy for reducing emissions, but when it comes to heating, the city is pursuing a truly innovative approach. Qingdao is investing CNY23.2 billion in a clean district heating network covering 180 square kilometers (km2 ) that will make use of air, ground, and waste-source heat pumps. Waste heat from industry and the sewage system is being mined to reduce the requirement to avoid polluting coal power plants.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided technical assistance and a $130 million loan for the project.

A sewage heat pump was installed as part of Qingdao’s new clean heating network, which will eventually cover 180 km2
A sewage heat pump was installed as part of Qingdao’s new clean heating network, which will eventually cover 180 km2 (photo by Jieshi Zhang).

The Challenge

Qingdao’s challenge of moving from a coal-based energy strategy to a more sustainable one mirrors the challenge many other PRC cities face. Making use of waste heat from existing sources and investing in energy efficiency will help to reduce reliance on coal and bring down dangerous air pollution levels.


Economic  Implementing retrofits to old, inefficient buildings alone is estimated to save the city around CNY40 million a year.

Environment  By implementing a clean heating network for the city, Qingdao aims to cut coal consumption by more than three million tons annually, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around eight million tons per year.

Social  Hundreds of new jobs have been created in installing and maintaining the renewable energy systems across the city.