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.

National Legislation Key to Combating Climate Change

Canada's fossil fuel electricity has highest carbon emissions

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 15 2013 (IPS)

A majority of major economies have made significant progress in addressing climate change, with countries like South Korea and China taking aggressive action so they can benefit from energy- and resource-efficient economies, a new report released Monday found.

The study by GLOBE International and Grantham Research Institute profiled 33 major economies in an annual examination of climate and energy legislation. 32 of them, including the United States, made significant progress in 2012, while only Canada regressed.

“The study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate,” said Adam Matthews, secretary general of GLOBE International, an organisation of legislators.

Local and National Actions Key to Combating Climate Change

global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009

New study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate – only Canada going backward

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 15 2013 (IPS) 

A majority of major economies have made significant progress in addressing climate change, with countries like South Korea and China taking aggressive action so they can benefit from energy- and resource-efficient economies, a new report released Monday found.

The study by GLOBE International and Grantham Research Institute profiled 33 major economies in an annual examination of climate and energy legislation. 32 of them, including the United States, made significant progress in 2012, while only Canada regressed.

“The study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate,” said Adam Matthews, secretary general of GLOBE International, an organisation of legislators.

While major international climate conferences such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Doha in November and December 2012 have made little progress, cities, states and national governments around the world are taking action.

The political reality, Matthews told IPS, is that local and national climate regulations and legislation must come first. “An environment minister in Doha couldn’t commit his country to an ambitious carbon reduction target unless the country has already decided to chart a new economic course,” he said. Continue reading

Green Approaches to Water Safest and Cheapest Solution

Wetlands regulate, clean and cool water. Mare Aux Cochons high-altitude wetlands, Seychelles Islands (ReneeLeahy copyright)
Wetlands regulate, clean and cool water. Mare Aux Cochons high-altitude wetlands, Seychelles Islands (ReneeLeahy copyright)

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.

In 2011, countries around the world invested more than eight billion dollars in similar watershed projects around the world, according to the State of Watershed Payments 2012 report released Thursday. That year, China led the way, accounting for 91 percent of watershed investment.

“Whether you need to save water-starved China from economic ruin or protect drinking water for New York City, investing in natural resources is emerging as the most cost-efficient and effective way to secure clean water and recharge our dangerously depleted streams and aquifers,” said Michael Jenkins, president of Forest Trends, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the United States, which compiled the report. Continue reading

Climate Change Opportunity to Boost Economies – European Vision

[This re-post of an article showing countries moving to renewable energy to create jobs and reduce dependence on expensive, polluting and climate destroying fossil fuels. — Stephen]

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 20, 2011 (IPS)

If we’re lucky, by the time a tough but fair international treaty to meet the climate change challenge is finalised, it will be largely unnecessary. The snail’s pace of negotiations certainly gives countries plenty of time to understand the financial, social and environmental advantages of kicking their dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.

That may be a cynical optimist’s hope, but the European Union is already moving in that direction.

Climate change is now seen as an opportunity to deal with the economic downturn in Europe,” said Jürgen Lefevere, a European Commission negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session that ended late Friday in Bonn.

“It is no longer just an environmental issue for us,” Lefevere said at a final press conference.

China also understands the opportunity.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar now account for 11.4 percent of China’s electricity, and that figure will be 20 percent by 2020, says Liu Qiang, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development Reform Commission, China.

“China takes this very seriously,” Qiang said, noting that there are significant investments and research in smarter electrical grids and energy storage in China.

Looking to 2050, the era of fossil fuels will be over in a world of vibrant economies and societies powered entirely by clean, cheap and renewable energy, says Niklas Hoehne, director of Energy and Climate Policy at Ecofys, an energy consulting company based in the Netherlands.

“The cost is about two to three percent of global GDP (gross domestic product) from now until 2035, and then the costs decline,” said Hoehne, a co-author of the Ecofys technical study called “The Energy Report“, which demonstrates how the world could reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

That investment is far less than the costs of climate change will be without major reductions in emissions, he told IPS. Continue reading

Plankton Death To Come with Acid Oceans and Sunlight

A number of marine diatom cells (Pleurosigma), which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans.
Credit: Michael Stringer

Global Warming has made oceans 30% more acidic already

“It’s clear we are conducting a giant experiment on the planet and we don’t know what we are doing.”

[This is a repost from my May 8 2012 article – see here for more on acid ocean impacts — Stephen]

 By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8, 2012 (IPS)

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, sunlight will kill an unknown number of ocean phytoplankton, the planet’s most important organism, a new study reports this week.

Not only are phytoplankton, also known as marine algae, a vital component in the ocean’s food chain, they generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe.

In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean’s increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned.

“There’s a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light,” says Ulf Riebesell of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

Riebesell added that it was also possible “phytoplankton could adapt”.

Researchers were surprised to discover that diatoms, one of the most important and abundant types of phytoplankton, fared very badly during shipboard experiments conducted by co-author Kunshan Gao, from the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University, Xiamen China.

Previous experiments in labs like Riebesell’s found that diatoms actually did better in high-acid seawater, unlike most other shell- forming plankton. Burning fossil fuels has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic researchers discovered less than 10 years ago. Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels.

The good news is this has slowed the rate of global warming. The bad news is oceans are now more acidic and it will get worse as more CO2 is emitted. This is basic, well-understood ocean chemistry.  Continue reading

Faith Groups Call for African Spirit of “Ubuntu”; End Sinful, American-style Greed

South African Bishop Geoff Davies (L) and Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada

By Stephen Leahy

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 9 (IPS)

African and international faith leaders urged governments attending the final day of climate change negotiations to do what is right and necessary to keep global temperature from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The two degrees Celsius target is unacceptable because temperatures in much of Africa will be far higher,” said South African Bishop Geoff Davies.

Oil and coal companies along with other major polluting corporations are engaged in “crimes against humanity and the planet” because they continue to pollute the atmosphere when they have ability to do otherwise, said David Le Page of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

More than 130 African faith leaders have signed a declaration offering specific recommendations based science, honesty, morality and equity. They called on delegates negotiating a new climate treaty here at the 17th Conference of Parties to live up to the African spirit of “ubuntu” – a way of living focused on people’s allegiances and relations with each other.

The current economic system encourages “people to get as rich as they can and forget about anyone else,” said Davies. “It’s an immoral system.”

“Historic polluters like the United States have to reduce their emissions dramatically” and their position here is “shocking” and “reprehensible”, he said. The children and grandchildren of U.S. congressmen will ask what they were doing to be so selfish and irresponsible, Davies said.

The U.S is the most religious society in the world but their behaviour is “sinful” in their refusal to reduce emissions that causing so much suffering among people, he said.

“When lifestyles of the wealthy hurt the lives of the poor….and future generations it is wrong,” Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

“Climate change is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue. We need moral leadership not political leadership,” Tindal told IPS.

“South Africa has had courageous, moral leaders like Ghandi and Mandela. If our leadership shows the same moral courage the people will follow them.” Continue reading