Last week, the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai with its more than 5 million citizens ran entirely on renewable energy, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reports.

Tangshanpeng Wind Farm.

Image credits Land Rover Our Planet / Flickr.

China’s Qinghai province‘s 5.2 million citizens worked, ate, and went about their daily lives, drawing only on renewable energy between 17 and 23 of June. The whole thing was part of a trial conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China which aimed to prove that fossil fuels aren’t required to power future societies.

And that they did

Electricity use during this week amounted to 1.1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), 72.3% of which was supplied by hydro, with newer sources such as solar and wind rounding up the rest. To put things into perspective, coal-fired plants would have required some 535,000 tonnes of coal to produce that much energy.

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“Being the first trial of this kind in the country and a major step in the transformation of energy supply, it will be of great importance in promoting the use of clean energy in China in a sustainable and effective way,” said Quan Shenming, general manger of Qinghai Electric Power Corporation, a subsidiary of State Grid Corporation.

The figures haven’t been independently verified as of writing this, so we’ll have to trust Xinhua on it until the story is confirmed. But, if confirmed, the biggest result here is that the experiment showed you don’t need conventional plants so supply a “base load” of energy, a concept which opponents of renewables like to throw around. Still, compared to other places, Qinghai had the benefit of experience on its side. The province already heavily relies on renewables. Its grid has a total installed capacity of around 23 million kW, and renewables already supply 83.8% of that power.

But the province, and China as a whole, will continue to invest in clean energy. According to the Chinese National Energy Administration, China is set to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (US$366 billion) in this field by 2020. As part of this investment and according to the 13th provincial Five-Year Plan, Xinhua reports, Qinghai will expand its solar and wind capacity to 35 million kW by 2020, setting it up to share some 110 billion kWh to provinces in central and eastern China. With such a massive increase planned, it’s easy to see why officials would test how well renewables can power Qinghai (and other provinces) by themselves.

Earlier this month, we’ve seen California Gov. Jerry Brown work to tighten collaboration between his state and China regarding clean energy efforts. And, with China inching in at the forefront of renewable energy technology, it’s likely an effort that will pay off big-time. Hopefully, more states will follow suit.