China’s Energy Future: Greener Than You Might Think. Part 1 of 6 – Overview

by Thomas Rippel on August 6, 2009

China relentless economic expansion (which over past three decades in many ways has become the governments sole source of credibility) has until recently trumped all policy decision (besides political self-preservation of course), with little regard for the environment. Yet, it is become increasingly clear that a paradigm shift has taken place. Economic expansion is still the government’s primary concern, but not at all costs. Rivers are being cleaned up, dirty and inefficient coal plants are being shut down,  large chemical refineries are being moved and face tighter regulations and now China is becoming very serious about curbing CO2 emissions. In fact, China is doing more to curb its CO2 emissions than any other counry in the world!

Hard to believe? I agree. But lets have a look at the numbers.

At the end of last year, China’s energy generating capacity stood at close to 800 Gigawatts. By 2020 it will be 1500 GW. This is huge. How huge? In a matter of 12 years, China is going to install almost as much additinal energy generating capacity as the entire US has today!

The question is where this additional capacity will come from.

Even by today’s modest estimates, more than 60% of it will be “green energy” – Wind, Hydro, Solar, Bio-Fuels and Nuclear (I am not using in the same capacity as the headline term “renewable energy”. I am talking about anything that is not fossil fuel based). This of course leaves 35-40% of energy generating capacity still to come from coal and natural gas. Hence, China in 2020 will produce more CO2 than today. A lot more. However when you hear this fact in the news, or when this comes up in political debates, the simple fact that China’s energy requirements are still rapidly rising as the country is modernizing vs. the fact that western energy needs are going to be relatively constant in the foreseeable future is mistakenly ignore. I believe it is a great error to hold China to the same standard of emissions reduction as we should Western Europe or the US. It is a political move with the sole purpose of bogging down the debate and to continue with business-as-usual, particularly by the US.

To underestimate China’s efforts today might mean a rude awakening just a few years down the road, when Chinese companies become the industry leaders in just about every field of renewable energy technology.

Part 2: Spinning Tiger, Flying Dragon: China’s Wind Revolution

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