Skip to main content

Bloomberg ($):

In a town on the edge of the Gobi desert is a sign in English and Chinese that reads “Oil Holy Land.” Nearby, a preserved drilling rig marks the spot of China’s first commercial oil well.

All around, coated in snow on an April morning, are streets of abandoned buildings, their rooms littered with trash, torn wallpaper and broken furniture and smashed window panes.

This is Yumen, “the cradle of China’s oil industry,” that has become a totem for China’s changes over the past four decades—from a time of sacrifice and ideology to one of entrepreneurs and the pursuit of wealth, from the old economy to the new, from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

As the old town dies, a new city center is rising an hour and a half’s drive to the west, on a fertile oasis by the old Silk Road. Here are wide streets, new schools and apartment blocks and optimism. Instead of oil derricks and nodding donkeys, the flat plains around New Yumen are covered with rows of wind turbines and fields of solar panels.

The contrast has made Yumen a byword for energy transformation, a town that shrugged off the mantle of oil and embraced the future. But the reality is not so simple.

[Qilai Shen]

More: How to turn an oil boom town into an oasis of renewable energy

Join our newsletter

Keep up to date with all the latest from IEEFA