What Really Kickstarted China’s Green Energy Revolution?

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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.

Canada Leading ‘Deforestation Nation’ In Race to Destroy Planet’s Last Wilderness Areas

Canada's tar sands projects visible from space
Canada’s tar sands projects visible from space

Forest Loss Results in Massive Emissions of CO2

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 5 2014 (IPS) 

The world’s last remaining forest wilderness is rapidly being lost – and much of this is taking place in Canada, not in Brazil or Indonesia where deforestation has so far made the headlines.

A new satellite study reveals that since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.

Since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.


“Every four seconds, an area of the size of a football (soccer) field is lost,” said Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International.

The extent of this forest loss, which is clearly visible in satellite images taken in 2000 and 2013, is “absolutely appalling” and has a global impact, Thies told IPS, because forests play a crucial in regulating the climate.


The current level of deforestation is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes together, he said, adding that “governments must take urgent action” to protect intact forests by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures, including convincing lumber, furniture manufacturers and others to refuse to use products from virgin forests.

Greenpeace is one of several partners in the Intact Forest Landscapes initiative, along with the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia among others, that uses satellite imagery technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last large undisturbed forests.

The new study found that half of forest loss from deforestation and degradation occurred in just three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. These countries are also home to about 65 percent of world’s remaining forest wilderness.

However, despite all the media attention on deforestation in the Amazon forest and the forests of Indonesia, it is Canada that has been leading the world in forest loss since 2000, accounting for 21 percent of global forest loss. By contrast, the much-better known deforestation in Indonesia has accounted for only four percent.

Brazil's Amazon forest - 2013. Credit_Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Massive increases in oil sands and shale gas developments, as well as logging and road building, are the major cause of Canada’s forest loss, said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada, an independent Canadian NGO.

A big increase in forest fires is another cause of forest loss. Climate change has rapidly warmed northern Canada, drying out the boreal forests and bogs and making them more vulnerable to fires.

In Canada’s northern Alberta’s oil sands region, more than 12.5 million hectares of forest have been crisscrossed by roads, pipelines, power transmission lines and other infrastructure, Lee told IPS.

Canada’s oil sands and shale gas developments are expected to double and possibly triple in the next decade and “there’s little interest at the federal or provincial political level in conserving intact forest landscapes,” Lee added.

The world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests are where most of the planet’s remaining wild animals, birds, plants and other species live, Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Programme at the World Resources Institute, told a press conference.

Animals like Siberian tigers, orangutans and woodland caribou require large areas of forest wilderness, Sizer noted, and “losing these top species leads to a decline of entire forest ecosystems in subtle ways that are hard to measure.”

While forests can re-grow, this takes many decades, and in northern forests more than 100 years. However, if species go extinct or there are too few individuals left, it will take longer for a full forest ecosystem to recover – if ever.

In just 13 years, South America’s Paraguay converted an incredible 78 percent of its remaining forest wilderness mainly into large-scale soybean farms and rough pasture, the study found. Satellite images and maps on the new Global Forest Watch website offer see-it-with-your-own eyes images of Paraguay’s forests vanishing over time.

The images and data collected for the study are accessible via various tools on the website. They reveal that 25 percent of Europe’s largest remaining forest, located 900 km north of Moscow, has been chopped down to feed industrial logging operations. In the Congo, home of the world’s second largest tropical forest, 17 percent has been lost to logging, mining and road building. The Global Forest Watch website also shows details of huge areas of Congo forest licensed for future logging.

Deforestation starts with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, said Thies. In some countries, like Brazil and Paraguay, the prime reason is conversion to large-scale agriculture, usually for crops that will be exported.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. Market-led efforts need to gain further support given the lax governance and enforcement in many of these forest regions, Thies said.

He called on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a voluntary certification programme that sets standards for forest management – to “also play a stronger role” and to improve those standards in order to better protect wilderness forests.

Without urgent action to curb deforestation, it is doubtful that any large-scale wild forest will remain by the end of this century, concluded Sizer.

First published on IPS

Exposure to air pollution from traffic damages Swedish children’s lungs

Source:  American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 13 Oct 2012

Exposure to air pollution from traffic during infancy is associated with lung function deficits in children up to eight years of age, particularly among children sensitized to common allergens, according to a new study.

“Earlier studies have shown that children are highly susceptible to the adverse effects of air pollution and suggest that exposure early in life may be particularly harmful,” said researcher Göran Pershagen, MD, PhD, professor at the Karolinska Institutet Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden.

“In our prospective birth cohort study in a large population of Swedish children, exposure to traffic-related air pollution during infancy was associated with decreases in lung function at age eight, with stronger effects indicated in boys, children with asthma and particularly in children sensitized to allergens.”

The findings were published online ahead of print publication in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study included more than 1,900 children who were followed from birth through age eight. ….

[edit]

“Our study shows that early exposure to traffic-related air pollution has long-term adverse effects on respiratory health in children, particularly among atopic children,” concluded Dr. Pershagen.

“These results add to a large body of evidence demonstrating the detrimental effects of air pollution on human health.”

via Exposure to traffic air pollution in infancy impairs lung function in children.

RELATED ARTICLES

Reducing Soot and Smog from Air Pollution Would Help Stabilise Climate

Urban Air Pollution from Burning Fossil Fuels Reduces Children’s Intelligence

Low Levels of Air Pollution Dangerous For Your Heart

Reducing Soot and Smog from Air Pollution Would Help Stabilise Climate

There is a quick way to buy more time to make the switch from fossil fuels to alternatives. Serious reductions in air pollutants like soot and smog bring cleaner air, less asthma/lung disease/heart attacks and could cut warming by 30 per cent.  No new technology needed as my article shows, just something like a Green Marshall Plan to bring simple things like $20 clean-burning cooking stove to hundreds of millions of people. (more at Global Alliance for Cookstoves) — Stephen

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 14, 2011 (IPS) – Clean the air, cool the planet and prevent millions of deaths with fast action on soot and smog, a new report urges.

Air pollutants like black carbon (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) arise from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass like wood and charcoal.

Nations or regional blocks of nations could decide to put measures into place that quickly improve their air quality, reduce crop losses and shorten lives. And, almost as a side benefit, those efforts would do much to slow the rate of global warming, says the scientific assessment report released at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn.

“One-third of current global warming is due to emissions of black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone,” said Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This comprehensive scientific assessment shows that reducing emissions of these pollutants is a powerful adjunct to efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, Alcamo said in a press conference.

If the global community fully implements clean-up measures, it could reduce future climate change by 0.5 degrees C by 2030 to 2040, the report concludes. This is a key ingredient in the extraordinary challenge of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond two degrees C, says report co-author Johan Kuylenstierna, York Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

 

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

The scientists behind the assessment, coordinated by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), also point to numerous public health and food security opportunities. Ground-level ozone and fine particles, including black carbon, are linked with premature deaths, primarily heart disease and lung cancer, alongside other illnesses such as bronchitis and low birth weight.

Both ground-level ozone and black carbon can also substantially reduce the growth of crops, trees and other plants. Implementing the measures in the report could avoid annual yield losses of up to 50 million tonnes annually, they estimate.

“The (clean-up) measures to do this all exist and are in use in many places. They need to be implemented very widely in order to get the full climate benefit,” Kuylenstierna told IPS. Continue reading

Reducing Soot and Smog Would Help Stabilise Climate and Save Millions of Lives

Picture of smog in Cairo.
Image via Wikipedia

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 14, 2011 (IPS)

Clean the air, cool the planet and prevent millions of deaths with fast action on soot and smog, a new report urges.

Air pollutants like black carbon (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) arise from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass like wood and charcoal.

Nations or regional blocks of nations could decide to put measures into place that quickly improve their air quality, reduce crop losses and shorten lives. And, almost as a side benefit, those efforts would do much to slow the rate of global warming, says the scientific assessment report released at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn.

Continue reading

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy” — Millions of Trees Burned for ‘Green Energy’

Burning trees for energy produces 1.5 times as much carbon as coal – study shows

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 24 ’09 (Tierramérica) (Revised Sept 1’10)

Millions of trees, especially from the developing countries of the South, are being shipped to Europe and burned in giant furnaces to meet “green energy” requirements that are supposed to combat climate change.

In the last two months alone, energy companies in Britain have announced the construction of at least six new biomass power generation plants to produce 1,200 megawatts of energy, primarily from burning woodchips.

At least another 1,200 megawatts of wood-fired energy plants, including the world’s largest, in Port Talbot, Wales, are already under construction.

Those energy plants will burn 20 to 30 million tonnes of wood annually, nearly all imported from other regions and equivalent to at least one million hectares of forest.

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy,”Simone Lovera, of the non-governmental Global Forest Coalition, which has a southern officed in Asunción, Paraguay, told Tierramérica.

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Europe has committed to reducing its carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 in an effort to fight climate change. Biofuels and biomass energy will have key roles in achieving those goals, experts say.

[UPDATE: New story details regarding subsidies, increased air pollution from wood burning and the big lie that says ‘burning wood is carbon-neutral’: see Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?]

“Biomass is a very promising sector for energy companies,” says Jarret Adams, a spokesperson for Adage, a joint venture between French nuclear power giant Areva and the U.S.-based Duke Energy.

Adage is building a 50-megawatt, wood-burning power plant in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida, the first of 12 such “green energy” plants to be built over the next six years, Adams told Tierramérica.

“Burning wood for energy is considered carbon neutral by U.S. federal and state authorities,” he said. In other words, the process of generating electricity by burning wood emits an equal or lesser amount of carbon dioxide than the quantity absorbed by the trees through photosynthesis.

When Tierramérica questioned the assumption of carbon neutrality, Adams replied, “It is, but who knows for certain?”

See complete original story here.


Urban Air Pollution from Burning Fossil Fuels Reduces Children’s Intelligence

Yet another study that confirms the urgent need to switch to cleaner energy sources for health reasons. Here we have unborn children affected by the air pollution their mothers breathe. Burning fossil fuels releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which we all breathe in but these chemicals affect the mental development of unborn children. Other new studies show smog causes increases in heart attacks, and reduces blood’s ability to transport oxygen.

So why the high-profile fight over climate change and urgent need to reduce fossil fuel use? Might it happen that fossil energy companies desperate to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, actively encourage (if not directly fund) confusion regarding the inconvenient scientific results on climate and public health? — Stephen

[UPDATE: “Urban air pollutants may damage IQs before baby’s first breath, scientists say” – Environmental Health News
July 26, 2010]

April 2010 — A study by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) carried out in Krakow, Poland has found that prenatal exposure to pollutants can adversely affect children’s cognitive development at age 5, confirming previous findings in a New York City (NYC) study.

Researchers report that children exposed to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Krakow had a significant reduction in scores on a standardized test of reasoning ability and intelligence at age 5. The study findings are published today online in Environmental Health Perspectives. Continue reading