Sunday, December 06, 2009

China Needs More Ambitious Alternative Energy Policy

For all their flaws, the Chinese are now one of the big global players. And yet, allthough they're the third largest economy in the world, they still think of themselves as a third world country—at least when its convenient. Although their earnings per capita are still on the low side, they're burning coal and oil like a modern industrialized country. I'm surprised, therefore, that their energy policy is not more ambitious in terms of lowering emissions and turning more to alternative energy. I've written posts about some of the good things they're doing in the alternative energy field but it's apparent that it's still not nearly enough, at least if I'm reading some statements on their energy policies right. Here's the story from the China Daily:
Han Wenke, director-general of the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission, said: "By 2050, over one third of the country's total primary energy consumption should come from renewable energy. This is in line with the country's goal of fundamentally changing its energy consumption structure. This will contribute a great deal to environmental protection and help combat climate change."

(snip)

By 2020, the country, through vigorously developing its renewable energy resources, should be able to supply the renewable energy equivalent of more than 600 million tons of standard coal to fuel its robust economic growth. This renewable energy should account for about 15 percent of the country's total primary energy consumption.

Keeping in mind that much of what counts for renewable energy in China is hydroelectric power, 15% renewable by 2020 isn't nearly ambitious enough and taking 30 years to go from 15% to 33% is pathetic. Of course China is growing fast, perhaps too fast to think things through for the future. It can't continue to burn coal at the rate it does and expect to be taken seriously when it talks about limiting global warming emissions.

If a Reuters article is to be believed, the Chinese seem to be claiming that they may be installing too much windpower at the moment:
Wind power generating capacity has surged so fast that policy planners now warn of severe overcapacity in the sector, and dam after dam piled on Chinese rivers distorts water flow, endangers fish and poses a potential earthquake hazard.

First, if windpower is generating too much electricity, they can shut down some power generation from coal (the coal will still be there for the future). But more important, they are going to need more electrical capacity as the world's automotive fleet increasingly converts to hybrids and electric cars. Of course part of the problem with windpower is that it needs some backup system for when wind levels are low. Perhaps during periods of high wind the Chinese can use windpower to pull hydrogen from water and use hydrogen-powered fuel cells to even out the energy use. They could also, for that matter, use windpower to desalinate water for their vast deserts.

While I'm at it, here's a story from Canada the Chinese should give some thought to:
The natural gas industry — long the bedrock of Alberta’s economy — faces major threats amid a fundamental shift south of the border.

Massive stores of shale gas, once beyond the reach of engineers, are now being successfully squeezed out from under Texas and other U.S. states.

Now Medicine Hat, the unofficial heart of Alberta’s natural gas industry for more than a century, is being battered by this shale storm, along with dozens of other Alberta communities.

With all the money the Chinese have these days they should help build a natural gas pipeline from Alberta to Canada's west coast and ship natural gas to China. That way they can use less of their coal and emit far less greenhouse gases since natural gas is much cleaner than coal and emits about half the amount of carbon dioxide.

Wait a minute! There are already natural gas pipelines from Canada to the U.S. Why aren't we using that natural gas to close down some coal plants ourselves? Make sense to me.

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