What Really Kickstarted China’s Green Energy Revolution?

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 8.49.14 PM

I wrote this in 2004 for WIRED when China first announced it was moving away from coal as its primary energy source to green energy. Fascinating to look back and see that China had just 400 Mw of wind energy then. Today it’s world leader with 145 Gw  or 145,000 Mw  (a Gigawatt is 1,000 Megawatts). Interesting to see climate concerns were not the main reason for this build out. Enjoy.

STEPHEN LEAHY SCIENCE 10.04.04 12:00 PM

CHANGE IN THE CHINESE WIND

THE WORLD’S LARGEST wind power project will begin construction this month near Beijing, bringing green energy and cleaner air to the 2008 Summer Olympics and city residents coping with some of the worst air pollution in the world.
The new wind power plant, located 60 miles outside Beijing in Guangting, will generate 400 megawatts when at full capacity, nearly doubling the electrical energy China currently obtains from wind. But that’s just the beginning. Last summer at a climate change conference in Bonn, Germany, China surprised many by announcing it will generate 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind by 2020.

windmill winter ponies

Pollution is part of the driving force behind China’s newfound passion for green energy, said Yu Jie of Greenpeace China‘s office in Beijing. “Acid rain blankets 70 percent of the country,” Jie said, cutting crop yields, damaging trees and making rivers and lakes too acidic to support fish.

The country’s galloping economic growth over the past 20 years has meant enormous increases in electrical power demands, 75 percent of which come from coal. China is the world’s largest coal-consuming country and home to 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities on the planet, according to the World Bank. At least 400,000 people in China die each year from air-pollution-related illnesses, the World Bank reports.

Pollution is not China’s only energy problem. It is also plagued by frequent and widespread power failures because its generating capacity cannot keep pace with industrial and consumer demands. The country leads the world in purchases of TV sets and other appliances.

While China has low-quality coal in abundance, its transportation infrastructure cannot ship enough coal from the mines in the west to the cities in the east, said Jie. Electrical energy self-sufficiency is a crucial goal for the Chinese leadership, especially as oil imports soar to provide gasoline for the 14,000 new motor vehicles being added to its streets every day.

linfen coalminer

These factors have pushed China to invite Western energy experts, including environmental groups like Greenpeace and the National Resources Defense Council, to help China become more energy-efficient and figure out how to produce 20,000 megawatts from wind by 2020.

A megawatt is a million watts, sufficient power to light 10,000 100-watt bulbs, or enough daily electricity for 600 to 1,000 households, depending on energy use. Germany currently leads the world, generating 12,000 megawatts from wind, with the United States well behind at 5,000 megawatts.

China is looking to Germany and Denmark to supply the technology and the policy models upon which to base a new renewable-energy law, said Jie. “This is the first time China has asked outsiders to comment on a proposed law.”

“China’s wind power potential is huge — 500,000, perhaps 600,000 megawatts — but it needs the proper legal framework,” said Corin Millais, executive director of the Brussels-based European Wind Energy Association. The association has contributed input on the Chinese renewable-energy law.

China has a complex mix of state, local and private energy generators, with multiple levels of subsidies and often conflicting regulations. “Changes in state and federal laws are needed, along with clear rules about who sets the price and who owns the wind power farms; otherwise the wind-energy boom won’t happen,” said Millais.

The Chinese want to pursue private-public partnerships with European companies, but because up to 80 percent of the total cost of a wind farm is building it, companies need a reliable price structure for the power they sell, he said.

The new law is expected to be in place by next summer, and if it has the right ingredients, the Chinese landscape will soon blossom with fields of 2- and 3-megawatt wind turbines.

Another reason China is looking to wind is because it is now as cheap as coal, said Kyle Datta, managing director at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading independent energy research center. And if the health costs associated with coal burning are considered, wind is actually a lot cheaper, said Datta, who researched the Chinese energy market while co-authoring a book, Winning the Oil Endgame: American Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security.

“People in Chinese cities would also prefer it (wind energy) to all those diesel generators they needed last summer just to keep the lights on some of the time,” Datta said. Solving China’s pollution problems while meeting its energy needs will be difficult and will require a mix of power-generation technologies, including biomass, solar and hydro, he added.

Although China has little interest in nuclear power because of its high cost and security concerns, a few more nuclear plants will also be built, Datta said.

Peak salt: is the desalination dream over for the Gulf states?

The Middle East is home to 70% of the world’s desalination plants, but the more water they process, the less economically viable they become

By Stephen Leahy and Katherine Purvis (First published in the Guardian)

Gulf states are among the most water-scarce in the world. With few freshwater resources and low rainfall, many countries have turned to desalination (where salt is removed from seawater) for their clean water needs.

But Gulf states are heading for “peak salt”: the more they desalinate, the more concentrated wastewater, brine, is pumped back into the sea; and as the Gulf becomes saltier, desalination becomes more expensive.

“In time, it’s going to become impossible to use desalination in a way that makes economic sense,” says Gökçe Günel, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. “The water will become so saline that it will be too expensive to desalinate.”

The Middle East is home to 70% of the world’s desalination plants – mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Tens of billions of dollars, $24.3bn (£18.8bn) in Saudi Arabia alone, are being invested over the next few years to expand desalination capacity.

The process is cost and energy intensive; it pumps seawater through special filters or boils it to remove the salts. The resulting brine can be nearly twice as salty as normal Gulf waters, according to John Burt, a biologist at New York University Abu Dhabi.

But the 250,000 sq km Gulf is more like a salt-water lake than a sea. It’s shallow, just 35 metres deep on average, and is almost entirely enclosed. The few rivers that feed the Gulf have been dammed or diverted and the region’s hot and dry climate results in high rates of evaporation. Add in a daily dose of around 70m cubic metres of super-salty wastewater from dozens of desalination plants, and it’s not surprising that the water in the Gulf is 25% saltier than normal seawater, says Burt, or that parts are becoming too salty to use.

Peak salt, says Günel, mirrors the concept of peak oil, a popular concept in the 1970s used to describe the point in time when the maximum rate of oil extraction had been reached. “Peak salt describes the point at which desalination becomes unfeasible,” she says.

And studies have shown that the Gulf will only get saltier in the future. Raed Bashitialshaaer, a water resources engineer at Sweden’s Lund University, says that the growth of desalination plants in the region is happening far faster than his own 2011 study estimated.

With groundwater sources either exhausted or non-existent and climate change bringing higher temperatures and less rainfall, Gulf states plan to nearly double the amount of desalination by 2030 (doc). This is bad news for marine life and for the cost of producing drinking water – unless something can be done about the brine.

Farid Benyahia, a chemical engineer at Qatar University, believes he has a solution. He recently patented a process that could eliminate the need for brine disposal by nearly 100%. The process uses pure carbon dioxide (emitted during the desalination process by burning fossil fuels for power) and ammonia to turn brine into baking soda and calcium chloride. Whether the process is cost-effective remains to be seen but Benyahia believes it could be, especially if markets are found for large volumes of the end products.

Other efforts are also under way to reduce desalination’s country-sized carbon footprint which globally accounts for 76m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – nearly equivalent to Romania’s emissions in 2014.

The Global Clean Water Desalination Alliance was formed in 2015 to tackle this problem by increasing efficiencies and shifting to renewable energy sources, such as solar-powered desalination. Saudi Arabia expects to have a commercial-scale plant operational by 2017 and in California, a proposed solar-powered desalination plant combines innovation, efficiency and design.

Water pricing, says Günel, is also becoming critical to improving water efficiency in the Gulf.

“Climate change policymakers in the region are pushing for water pricing and awareness campaigns around consumption to explain to governments and citizens that they can’t continue to use water in the same way.”

Costs You $50-75 To Drive 100 Km (62 miles) – Don’t Blame Gas Prices

cost_of_vehicle_ownership

Smartest Thing You Can Do Is Dump Your Car

By Stephen Leahy

Uxbridge Cosmos, Feb 2013

Cars and trucks are extraordinarily expensive. The full cost of driving 100 km is between between $50 and $75 when fuel, wear and tear, insurance, depreciation, and repairs are included. The cost of owning and operating a car, van, SUV or truck ranges between $9,000 to $15,000 a year depending on the purchase price of the vehicle according to automobile clubs like the CAA . That’s a big chunk of aftertax income spent each and every year. Double this for two-car families.

If you pay $50 at the pump about $33 will go directly to oil companies. The gas station gets around a dollar and the rest is for provincial and federal taxes.

Finally ask yourself how many hours a day your vehicle isn’t being used? Most are parked 22 hours a day.

Why not give your car a day off once a week? A ‘No Car Day’ is easy to do, saves money and reduces emissions of climate-heating carbon dioxide (CO2). The average passenger vehicle emits around 4.8 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The biggest savings by far is to get rid of one vehicle. When you consider the full costs of ownership, the $9 000 to $15,000 saved will let you rent vehicles or taking taxi as needed with plenty of cash left over. For maximum savings use the bus or train. A bus from Uxbridge is only $10 to downtown Toronto — 75 km one way. Using your car that 75 km trip really costs $45 not including parking.

New study – drive less lose weight guaranteed: If drivers nationwide traveled 1 mile less by car each day, not only would fuel consumption fall, but annual health care costs could drop by billions of dollars as fewer people would be classified as obese or overweight, Jacobson estimates.

My related articles:

EcoMobility Gaining Ground As Cars/Roads Become Too Expensive

Cars Kill More Children Than Malaria — Leading Cause of Death Ages 5 to 14

Lend Your Car, Save, and Save the World

Bike vs Car on a Hot Planet

You’d be shocked to see how your jewellery is made

The Sickest Places in the World

Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

 

The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

The Agbogbloshie e-Wasteland in Ghana. Fires are set to wires and other electronics to release valuable copper and other materials. The fires blacken the landscape, releasing toxic fumes. Credit: Blacksmith Institute

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 5 2013 (IPS) Parts of Indonesia, Argentina and Nigeria are among the top 10 most polluted places on the planet, according to a new report by U.S. and European environmental groups.

They are extraordinarily toxic places where lifespans are short and disease runs rampant among millions of people who live and work at these sites, often to provide the products used in richer countries.

“People would be shocked to see the conditions under which their lovely jewelry is sometimes made,” said Jack Caravanos, director of research at the New York-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group that released the list Monday in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

Full story: The Sickest Places in the World

Public Pays for Fukushima Clean Up While Nuclear Industry Profits

Japan Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant March 31 2011

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 12 2013 (IPS)

Two years after Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the country faces 100 to 250 billion dollars in cleanup and compensation costs, tens of thousands of displaced people and widespread impacts of radiation.

The nuclear industry and its suppliers made billions from building and operating Fukushima’s six reactors, but it is the Japanese government and its citizens who are stuck with all the costly “fallout” of the disaster.

“People’s lives were destroyed and we will be paying trillions of yen in tax money because of the Fukushima disaster,” said Hisayo Takada, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan.

“The nuclear industry, other than Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Co), has paid nothing as they are specially protected by the law,” Takada told IPS.

On Mar. 11, 2011, Japan experienced a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that badly damaged Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Three of six reactors suffered a meltdown, and reactor unit four was damaged. The Fukushima accident has been rated at the highest level (7) of the International Atomic Energy Agency scale, the same as the Chernobyl accident.

A year after the disaster, Tepco was taken over by the Japanese government because it couldn’t afford the costs to get the damaged reactors under control. By June of 2012, Tepco had received nearly 50 billion dollars from the government.

The six reactors were designed by the U.S. company General Electric (GE). GE supplied the actual reactors for units one, two and six, while two Japanese companies Toshiba provided units three and five, and Hitachi unit four. These companies as well as other suppliers are exempted from liability or costs under Japanese law.

Full story here

Green Approaches to Water Treatment Gaining Ground Around World

Pool of water in oz forest rslpix

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 18 2013 (IPS)  

After Hurricane Sandy swept through the northeast of the United States late October 2012, millions of New Yorkers were left for days without electricity.  But they still had access to drinking water, thanks to New York City’s reliance on protected watershed areas for potable water.

Instead of using electric-powered water treatment plans, New York City brings its high-quality drinking water through aqueducts connected to protected areas in the nearby Catskill/Delaware forests and wetlands – just one example of how protecting watersheds can provide residential areas with drinking water and flood and pollution protection at bargain basement prices.

New York saved between four and six billion dollars on the cost of water treatment plants by protecting forests and compensating farmers in the Catskills for reducing pollution in lakes and streams.

Full story here

Pollution as big a health problem as malaria or TB, finds report

Haina, Dominican Republic - Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning
Haina, Dominican Republic – Children are developmentally impaired as a result of lead poisoning

Industrial pollutants harm the health of 125 million people,

many of whom live in the developing world and work in mining

Stephen Leahy

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 October 2012 12.30 BST

Waste from mining, lead smelters, industrial dumps and other toxic sites affects the health of an estimated 125 million people in 49 low- and middle-income countries. This unrecognised health burden is on the scale of malaria or tuberculosis (TB), a new report has found.

This year’s World’s worst pollution problems (pdf) report was published on Tuesday by the Blacksmith Institute in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland. It documents, for the first time, the public health impact of industrial pollutants – lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides – in the air, water and soil of developing countries.

“This is an extremely conservative estimate,” said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute, a small international NGO based in New York City. “We’ve investigated 2,600 toxic sites in the last four years, [but] we know there are far more.”

The US has an estimated 100,000-300,000 toxic sites, mainly factories or industrial areas, but toxic sites in the low- and middle-income countries assessed in the report are often in residential areas. “We see a lot of disease when we go into these communities,” said Ericson. “But we were surprised the health burden was so high – as much as malaria.”

Click to read full story:  Pollution as big a health problem as malaria or TB, finds report | Global development | guardian.co.uk.