Wednesday, 18 November 2009

News Article: Cleaner China

Cleaner China

Steven Mufson

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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At a gleaming new research center outside Beijing, about 250 engineers and researchers from the ENN Group are trying to figure out how to make energy use less damaging to the world's climate.

The private company is part of a growing drive by the mainland to work out a way to check the rapid growth of its massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Seeking to transform an economy dependent upon coal for electricity, Beijing has closed down old cement and coal plants, subsidized new wind turbines and taken other measures.

China produces the most carbon emissions in the world, and that is likely to continue growing for two decades. President Hu Jintao's pledge at the United Nations to lower the country's carbon intensity "by a notable margin" is regarded as a step forward.

Yet, in visible and less visible ways, China has begun to address its emissions problem. The steps are driven in part by the concern that climate change could worsen the flooding that plagues the country's low-lying coastal regions and cause water shortages as glaciers in the Himalayas melt away.

But China has also begun to see energy efficiency and renewable energy as ingredients for the type of modern economy it wants to build.

"We think this is a new business for us, not a burden," said Gan Zhongxue, who left a job as a top US scientist for the giant ABB Group to head up research and development at ENN, the Langfang , Hebei, company that made its fortune as the dominant natural gas distributor in 80 mainland cities.

The challenge is immense. On average, a mainlander emits one-fifth as much greenhouse gas as an American; an overwhelming majority do not own cars; and half the population still lacks access to winter heating.

But its economy is growing so quickly and prosperity is spreading so rapidly that China's demand for energy is destined to increase even if it uses less for every dollar of economic output. The State Grid's economic research institute forecasts an 85 percent increase in electricity demand by 2020.

Still, China has taken significant steps in the past five years. It removed subsidies for motor fuel, which now costs more than it does in the United States. It has set high efficiency standards for new coal plants; the United States has none. It has set new energy-efficiency standards for buildings. It has targeted its 1,000 top emitters of greenhouse gases to boost energy efficiency by 20 percent. And it has shut down many older, inefficient industrial boilers and power plants.

"Regardless of whether the US passes its own legislation, China will take positive measures because this is required for our own economy to conserve resources," said Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

In climate talks, China has argued that industrialized nations should do more to slow the pace of climate change compared with developing nations.

Beijing has set ambitious targets for renewable energy, which is supposed to account for 15 percent of the country's fuel mix by 2020, and for tree planting, to boost forest cover to 20 percent of China's land mass by the end of next year.

China plans to quadruple its nuclear power; by the end of next year, it may have 18 nuclear energy plants under construction, half of the world's total under construction.

Smaller details are getting attention, too. Xie said forcing supermarkets to charge for plastic bags reduced the use of the bags by two-thirds, saving the equivalent of about 30,000 barrels of oil a day.

The International Energy Agency said the efforts are starting to pay off. It lowered the estimate of future mainland greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, for all of the efforts, China's greenhouse gas emissions are likely to head upward. Hitting its renewable and nuclear energy targets will be challenging. The explosion in the number of wind turbines has created a transmission bottleneck; many turbines stand idle in Inner Mongolia and northeast China, awaiting new transmission lines and connections with the main power grids.

The country lacks the skilled manpower to construct, operate or regulate nuclear power stations. Key components might be in short supply, too.

All that contributes to China's continued reliance on coal and its reluctance to guarantee a ceiling on its emissions at the Copenhagen summit.

In the United States, China's drive to rein in its carbon emissions has prompted people to switch from worrying about "the China threat" to the global climate to worrying about the threat of China soon seizing the lead in clean- energy technology.

"If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they will win," said David Sandalow, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department.


gleaming -- shiny
subsidized -- paid a part of the cost
wind turbines -- a tall structure like a fan and uses wind to produce power
decade -- 10 years
pledge -- a formal promise
notable -- large and obvious
plagues -- to cause worry, pain or difficulty to someone or something over a period of time
glaciers -- a large mass of ice which moves slowly
immense -- extremely large
industrialized -- having developed a lot of industry
quadruple -- to become four times as big, or to multiply a number or amount by four
barrel -- 159 litres of oil
bottleneck -- a problem that delays progress
reluctance -- an unwillingness to do something
ceiling --[C usually singular] an upper limit
rein sth in -- (also rein sth back ) to control an emotion, activity or situation to prevent it from becoming too powerful, like pulling the rein (rope) around a racing horse's neck.
prompt sb to do sth -- to make someone decide to say or do something


It seems that there are a lot of articles about renewable energy these days and the fact is "You are right, that's the truth". With the Obama visit to China, the media is fuelling websites and newspapers with all available information.

The Golden Sun project is a big step ahead for China and should the result be satisfactory, more government subsidies and investments are expected to come. The first round is RMB$20 billions[1], but stated that "it was estimated that China would need to invest $398 billion to meet its renewable energy targets ($33 billion per year during 2009-20)"[2], and it might have already been underestimated. Reuters also stated that "China is expected to raise its 2020 solar power generation target more than fivefold to at least 10 gigawatts (GW). With incentives, analysts expect over 2 GW in new solar capacity will be installed as early as 2011, up from just over 100 MW in 2008. China has more than 800 GW of power generating capacity, and around three quarters of them are fired by coal."[3]

How soon can we see the result? You should know how fast Chinese people can work -- construction of the Olympic stadiums, production of the H1N1 vaccines, over-production of the cement, iron, wind turbines.

They are lightning fast!


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