Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Eye On China: China Bolsters National Renewable Energy Commitment


Renewable Energy Access.com reported yesterday that Chinese officials, speaking at the Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference (BIREC), announced a stronger commitment to renewable energy that includes a doubling of China's current use of renewable energy to 15 percent of the rapidly developing nation's energy mix by the year 2020.

China's new national renewable energy law comes into effect January 1st, 2006 and sets tariffs in place to foster renewable energy use. The Chinese government had originally stated a goal of reaching 10 percent renewable energy use by 2020. This new 15 percent commitment raises a renewable energy standard that had already been lauded around the world as a crucial step for a nation with limited and largely coal-based energy resources and a rapidly growing economy.

According to China Daily, this goal will likely involve investments of up to 1.5 trillion yuan (USD$ 184 billion). China is already the world leader in the use of solar thermal hot water systems and these new commitments could make it a major player with the other renewable energy technologies like solar photovoltaics, wind power, and biofuels.

The China Daily reports that Zhang Guobao, vice minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, has said that the business sector, instead of Government, will play a leading role in the investment and that international cooperation would be essential for China to meet its goals.

The government planned to specifically step up efforts to make renewable energy electricity available to the country's approximately 30 million people who do not have access to grid electricity. This mean there will be many stand-alone and distributed-generation renewable energy opportunities developed in the near future.

A 15 percent renewable energy commitment will mean a lot of renewable energy but the unfortunate reality is that the bulk of this commitment will be in large hydropower.

According to a report from Reuters, Zhang Guobao also said that hydro would generate 290 gigawatts (GW) by the year 2020, while biomass energy capacity would hit 20 GW, wind 30 GW and solar 2 GW.

The UK-based Guardian Unlimited newspaper reports that environmentalists have characterized Beijing's new renewable energy target as a good first step but "still not ambitious enough to offset the climatic damage caused by its spectacular economic growth, which will continue to be predominantly fuelled by coal."

"Environmentalists concerned about the impact of dams, which are ruining some of the world's most beautiful rivers, will be alarmed that hydropower is considered the main alternative to coal and oil," the Guardian stated.

Additionally, despite what may appear as a good first step effort, an inescapable reality for China is that the country's ongoing commitment to renewables -- whether largely through hydropower or not -- will do little to lesson the country's use of coal as the primary means for electrical production. The country currently uses coal for 70 percent of electricity in China and speakers at BIREC admitted that figure was not expected to change anytime soon.

This is good news, but like the article said, the bulk of this power will come from hydro, not wind and solar. Furthermore, while renewables will make up a growing portion of the pie by 2020, the pie itself will have grown much larger and this will most certainly mean significantly more coal consumption as well as natural gas (if China can get it; it will likely come from Russia).

This
is a good first step, but China's rampant growth means that it's emissions, both of greenhouse gasses and criteria pollutants, will continue to rise, presenting a significant problem for Chinese health standards as well as the world (i.e. global climate change concerns, smog/acid rain forming emissions crossing national boundaries etc.). The developed world needs to work very closely with China (as well as India and other developing countries) to avoid such a scenario and continue to push for the development of cleaner burning and renewable energy generation to meet China's growing demand. It seems to me that one of the best things we could do would be to openly share Internal Gasification Combined Cycle coal-fired generation technology with China. If they have to use their coal, we should at least make sure it is used as cleanly as possible (with or w/out carbon sequestration, IGCC plants are significantly cleaner, and more efficient, than coal-fired steam plants).

Resources:

  • Renewable Energy Access.com: Beijing Strengthens National Renewable Energy Goal

  • China Daily: Renewable energy gets huge outlay

  • Reuters: China lifts target for renewable energy use

  • China pledges to double reliance on renewable energy by 2020

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