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Issue #1443      17 February 2010

Culture & Life

China – leading the way with renewables

If you believed the media hype coming out of the Copenhagen climate conference, China and India were the villains, refusing to curb their apparently insatiable demands for economic growth despite the rational arguments of the developed nations of Western Europe and North America. After all, why should the major capitalist corporations curb their emissions if the Third World countries aren’t going to cut theirs? It just wouldn’t be fair, would it?

In fact it would be about as unfair as the capitalist world making itself rich through unimpeded exploitation of colonial countries, often at the point of a gun, for a couple of centuries or more, using their colonies’ resources to build up capitalism’s industrial might and wealth while polluting the atmosphere of the whole globe. Now they say those former colonial states aren’t allowed to catch up because it will harm the environment (as if big corporations care a toss about the environment).

No wonder the Third World is unimpressed, with either the capitalists’ arguments or their sincerity.

It is true that China, the chief target of capitalism’s propaganda barrage, is now the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gasses. But that is not the whole story.

China only became the world’s largest producer of such emissions in 2006. Prior to then the USA, with a fraction of China’s population, was far and away the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, and is still number two.

On a per capita basis, the USA is still the leader in this unsavoury field. In fact, on a per capita basis, China only ranks 99th. And, unlike the USA, China is also the world’s leading renewable energy producer.

The Chinese government and the Communist Party of China are both acutely conscious that, with no oil production of its own, China’s dependence for its energy needs on foreign oil supplies places the country at a strategic as well as an economic disadvantage. They have accordingly looked to the application of renewable energy to help the country complete its economic transformation.

At the UN climate summit on September 22, 2009 in New York (remember that? No one talks about it anymore), the Chinese President pledged that China would adopt plans to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources within a decade.

As long ago as 2006, about 16 percent of China’s electricity was already coming from renewable sources. As Wikipedia puts it, “technology development and increased amounts of investment in renewable energy technologies and installations has increased markedly throughout the 2000s in China”. The online reference publication also notes that “investment in renewables” was a key part of China’s economic stimulus strategy to combat the financial crisis (they didn’t just hand over money to the private banks like Australia did).

Hydroelectricity

China leads the world in the number of hydroelectric generators. By the end of this year, the total installations of hydropower in China should reach 190,000 MW.

Wind power

China has the largest wind resources (banks of windmills) in the world. Three-quarters of them are offshore. China has identified wind power as a key growth component of the country’s economy.

At the end of 2008, wind power in China accounted for 12.2 GW of electricity generating capacity. Chinese companies were commercially producing wind turbines of 1.5 MW and 2 MW capacity.

The initial future target set by the Chinese government for 2010 was 10 GW, but it now appears that by the end of this year the total installed capacity for wind power generation in China will reach 20 GW. China aims to have 100 gigawatts of wind power capacity by 2020.

Researchers from Harvard University and Tsinghua University have found that China will be able to meet all of its electricity demands from wind power alone by 2030.

Solar power

China has become a world leader in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, producing 30 percent of the world’s solar photovoltaics. Around 820 MW of solar PV were produced in China in 2007, second only to Japan. Suntech Power Holdings Co-based in Jiangsu, is the world’s third-biggest supplier of solar cells.

Last year the Chinese government announced the “Golden Sun” incentive scheme for development of the solar industry and solar technology in China, such as the new thin film solar plant developed by Chinese technicians in Henan province using China’s own proprietary solar technology.

About 50 MW of installed solar capacity was added in 2008, more than double the 20 MW in 2007, but still a relatively small amount. According to some studies, the demand in China for new solar modules could be as high as 232 MW each year from now on until 2012.

To quote Wikipedia again: “The government has announced plans to expand the installed capacity to 20GW by 2020. If Chinese companies manage to develop low cost, reliable solar modules, then the sky is the limit for a country that is desperate to reduce its dependence on coal and oil imports as well as the pressure on its environment by using renewable energy.”

Biomass and biofuel

China emerged as the world’s third largest producer of ethanol bio-fuels (after the US and Brazil) as of the end of the 10th Five Year Plan Period in 2005 and at present ethanol accounts for 20 percent of total automotive fuel consumption in China. In the present 11th Five Year Plan period (2006 through 2010) China aims to develop 6 million tpy of fuel ethanol capacity, which is expected to grow to 15 million tpy by 2020. Despite this level of production, experts say that there will be no threat to food security.

The 250 million yuan Kaiyou Green Energy Biomass (Rice Husks) Power Generating project in Jiangsu Province will generate 144 million kwh/year and use 200,000 tpy of crop waste as inputs.

For a country which is still, for much of its area, not only under-developed rural but impoverished, China seems to have embraced green technologies with some enthusiasm. Australians should take note.


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