Tag Archives: china

Wind Will It End?

Please forgive me for the cheezy post title, but if you choose to read on I think you will see it is relevant. When we discuss the challenges facing wind energy we hear about the intermittency and storage issues, destroying the visual landscape, lack of transmission and even the dangers posed to birds. Many people also raise valid concerns regard whether or not wind can be economically feasible without government subsidies, regulations and mandates. A recent Scientific American article shows that wind proponents should also worry about the challenges we don’t hear about every day.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these less discussed challenges are coming from wind’s competitors. The Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy believes wind producers should fork over the funds needed to expand the transmission infrastructure from the areas of the country where wind energy is produced (the Midwest) to the areas with the highest energy demand (the East Coast). While this seems like a reasonable idea on the surface you should be asking yourself who is this Coalition?  Turns out the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy is made up of East Coast utilities.

Closer to home we have players in the natural gas game demanding that wind developers be held responsible for some of the costs associated with running backup natural gas generators. These generators are essential in providing electricity when the wind slows down and is unable to produce the needed amount of electricity. As before this appears to be a reasonable suggestion. Why shouldn’t wind energy producers help foot at least part of the costs generated when a gas turbine is turned on to make up for a decline in wind energy? At the same time this seems like an attempt by the natural gas industry to increase their competitions costs and help keep natural gas competitive on price.

Anyone who is familiar with the wind industry understands the large role played by the government. While people can certainly debate whether the government should be involved at all and if so to what level, nobody can deny the importance of politics in the past or in the future. In my podcast I touched on the concerns Senator Charles Schumer raised regarding the spending of stimulus funds on projects that were creating more jobs in China than in the United States. Now Schumer and three other Senators proposed a plan that would prevent federal grants being issued to any project used blades or turbines manufactured outside of the U.S. opponents of the Senators’ plan claim that the U.S. cannot afford to slow or limit the growth of the wind industry because it will only put us at risk of falling behind Chinese and European manufacturers. They also point out that Schumer and his colleagues are simply trying to funnel jobs to their states and the number of jobs going overseas has been exaggerated. As with most things in politics the number of jobs being created in and outside of the United States differs significantly depending on who you talk to and before you know it the whole issue has taken a nasty turn towards “he said, she said”-ville.

It is obvious each of these parties (Senators, utilities, the natural gas industry) and their actions are motivated through their own self-interests, but it should be just as obvious that we cannot simply dismiss these legitimate concerns simply because we do not support the people raising them. In a perfect world we would be focused on finding solutions for the “natural” problems facing wind instead of creating additional artificial roadblocks. In that same perfect world everyone would be working towards the common goal of creating clean renewable energy and the traditional utility, natural gas and coal industries would be okay with that. Reality is the world isn’t perfect and the future of wind energy is hardly certain. For the wind industry to continue its impressive growth they will have to learn to be just as focused on navigating the wonderful world of politics and viciously competitive energy industry as they are with coming up with solutions to their storage issues.

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Carbon Sequestration : A U.S – China Collaboration for a Promising World Fate?

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, may have found the answer to dramatically decreasing their CO2 emissions: geologic carbon sequestration. This form of carbon storage captures CO2 from coal-burning power plants and other CO2 point sources that would have otherwise been emitted into the atmosphere and stores it deep within various geologic formations. Successful carbon sequestration within China would allow the country to continue cheap production and use of coal while addressing the overwhelming concerns of CO2 emissions. However, for a long while it was believed that China didn’t have the geologic means to store the carbon, and thus was not seriously considered as a viable option for reducing emissions. Fortunately, a recent study by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has countered those beliefs, revealing that China has the capacity to store roughly 3,000 gigatons of CO2 in various onshore and offshore formations across the country, proving storage capabilities for at least a century [1]. Furthermore, the study showed that the potential reservoirs for carbon storage are all within a 100 mile range of 90% of the power plants and industrial facilities of China that are prominent CO2 emission sources. This fact will keep extensive CO2 transport infrastructure from being built, saving the total cost of the project substantially [1].

This research has put in place a first-ever clean energy collaboration between the U.S. and China, which has now expanded to an extensive effort “to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building” [2]. This expansive collaboration includes the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, in which $150 million US dollars, provided by various public and private sectors, will be available to facilitate further research as mentioned above [2]. With the U.S. being the world’s second largest greenhouse emitter, this collaboration could mean great advances in the global reduction of CO2 emissions and a more promising clean energy future. Both President Jintao of China and President Obama are in agreement of the severity of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and are committed to taking the essential steps to mitigating the problem.

From this, I feel a sense of encouragement that this dire issue will be addressed in the diligent manner in which it deserves and I look forward to the next several years, as I fully agree with the statement of Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, “What the U.S. and China do over the next decade will determine the fate of the world.” Let’s just hope that what is done is something good…

[1] http://energyenvironment.pnl.gov/news/pdf/us_china_pnnl_flier.pdf

[2] http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-17-u.s.-and-china-announce-positive-cooperative-and-comprehensive-p/

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A Green Clean China?

Pu Shi, loooking out onto Pu Dong - Shanghai, China 2007

China has seen massive economic and technological growth in the last few decades, resulting in the billion inhabitants increasing the country’s energy demand by 15% a year.  As President Obama alerted the US in the State of the Union address last week, China has entered the race for renewable energy and is vying for first place.  In fact, China is currently spending 10 times as much on renewable energy than the US (based on a percentage of the GDP).   China also plans to supply 15% of its energy by renewable resources by 2020.  Despite the competitive race to be world leader in green energy, the US has teamed up with China on certain initiatives.  In November 2009, the US and China announced several joint programs to stimulate research and development of green technology including hybrid electric cars, clean coal processes, and improving the efficiency of industrial buildings [DOE].

Strong evidence points to China succeeding in the world race for clean energy.  In 2009, China was the largest wind turbine and solar panel manufacturer in the world.  Also, the country’s wind energy capacity has doubled for each of the past four years.  As extra incentive for renewable energy entrepreneurs, state banks are offering loans with interest as low at 2%.  Moreover, China has already invested $45 billion dollars to improving the electric grid in 2009.

Back streets of Pu Shi in Shanghai, China 2007

From these new policies and promises, it appears China will be the world leader in Green Energy in the very near future.  Though things aren’t always what they seem.  Yes, China has doubled its wind energy capacity every year for the past four years.  However, almost a third of the wind generation plants are not yet connected to the grid.  By law, state grid companies must purchase all power generated by renewable energy sources [China Environmental Law].  Historically this law has not been strictly enforced as grid upgrades are costly and the 0.4% renewable energy fee attached to each electricity bill is insufficient to cover these costs.   Also, China includes both hydro-electric and nuclear power in the “renewable energy” category.  An increase to 15% renewable energy by 2020 becomes highly comparable to the US level of 15.2% (renewable and nuclear energy) reported in 2007 [Annual Energy Review 2007].

So the question lies: Is China on track to be the world leader in Green Energy?  Can the West, with our well established energy markets, be able to keep up?

Sources:

Annual Energy Review – Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review 2007, Tables 1.3, 2.1b-2.1f and 10.3

China Environmental Law – http://www.chinaenvironmentallaw.com/2009/12/28/chinas-renewable-energy-law-amendments/

DOE – http://www.energy.gov/news2009/8292.htm

Business Green – http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2243176/china-set-roll-440bn-green

New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/business/energy-environment/31renew.html

Yale Environment 360 – http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2180

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