With the world's longest network of tracks and some of its most advanced trains, China's high-speed rail system effortlessly evokes the future. But the country's latest innovation takes unlikely inspiration from the past. Shaped like an ancient Chinese sword, China's newest bullet train slices through the air at a maximum speed of 311 miles per hour, capable of traveling from Beijing to Shanghai in less than three hours and four-and-a-half times faster than the average speed of trains plying Amtrak's busy Boston-Washington Acela route (where speeds are limited by conventional train traffic).
In the future, trains like this might also be able to dart from city to city without even having to stop for passengers. Designer Chen Jianjun has dreamed up a system of pods that slide on and off the tops of trains in transit, loading and unloading passengers at high speed without the train actually stopping, which currently adds two-and-a-half hours to the journey from Beijing to Guangzhou.
As a result, China has more electric taxis in operation than anywhere in the world and is likely to extend its lead. On Beijing's outskirts, electric Fotons ferry passengers to and from the Great Wall. In the southern city of Shenzhen, which has the world's largest fleet of zero-carbon taxis and buses, cabbies drive hundreds of e6s, electric cars manufactured by Warren Buffett-backed automaker BYD. Shenzhen's government wants 24,000 electric vehicles on the city's roads and 12,750 charging stations by the end of this year. In 2010, China surpassed the United States to become the world's largest energy consumer. To meet its seemingly limitless electicity needs, China is turning to its solar industry, which already leads the world in panel production, and gearing up to produce gigantic solar plants.
A solar farm capable of generating 1 gigawatt of power is planned in Datong, a city in Shanxi province known for its coal reserves, while in Inner Mongolia a Chinese firm and an American company have teamed up to build a solar plant capable of cranking out 2 gigawatts, making it the world's largest, with double the capacity of most active U.S. nuclear reactors.