Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Great Chinese Fuel Switch

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu. 

chinese_take_out_carton

Here’s an interesting item on China’s shifting energy mix. Sometimes the statistics on energy growth in emerging economies can be staggering and China is no exception.

“China’s endless power-plant construction boom has accounted for 80% of the world’s new generating capacity in recent years and will continue to do so for many years to come, says Edwin Chen of Credit Suisse, an investment bank. Capacity added this year alone will exceed the installed total of Brazil, Italy and Britain, and come close to that of Germany and France. By 2012 China should produce more power annually than America, the current leader.”

That’s a lot of power and through emissions—or lack thereof—China’s energy choices will affect the whole world. So, it’s interesting to see that China is attempting to diversify into cleaner fuels.

“The use of power derived from coal will continue to grow in absolute terms (although new coal-fired plants are to be more efficient and cleaner), but its share of total Chinese output will fall from 75% to 65%, estimates Credit Suisse’s Mr. Chen. Hydropower will expand by more than half, but its share of the total will drop a bit, from 21% to 20%. Wind power will see a big expansion, taking its share from 3% to 7%, as will nuclear, up from 1% to 5%. The rest will come from such niches as solar panels and incinerators.”

That’s right, nuclear energy [admittedly from a small base] will be the fastest growing low-carbon electricity source in China [more emissions-intensive natural gas capacity will probably grow faster].

I know, I know, I’ve heard it before:

“China uses coal now and it will use even more in the future.”

“Such a small dent will make little difference in global emissions.”

But combining nuclear, wind and those “solar panels and incinerators” to transition one of the world’s largest economies to over 12 percent electricity from ultra-low emissions sources is no small achievement. Throw in hydropower, greater efficiency, some electrified transportation and a modernized grid that can transfer clean energy across great distances and you really start making a difference in global emissions.

China’s moves have apparently made a big impression on Steven Chu, who practically started off his testimony last week before the Senate Committee on Appropriations with a review of Chinese energy strategy:

“The leaders in China now recognize that if the world continues on its current path, climate change will be devastating to China and to the rest of the world. They acknowledge that China’s growth in carbon emissions is environmentally unsustainable and are working  hard to lessen their emissions growth. They also see the economic  opportunity that clean energy represents…”

Turns out, although China is importing nuclear technology now, it plans to export it in the future.

“By 2020, China’s goal is to build advanced reactors entirely by itself, and to export its prowess abroad. Chinese firms have already built one reactor in Pakistan, are working on another and plan two more. China is harnessing its hunger for electricity, in other words, to increase its economic power.”

Or as Secretary Chu put it:

“China largely missed out on the IT revolution, but it is playing to win in the clean energy race. For the sake of our economy, our security, and our environment, America must develop decisive policies that will allow us not only to compete in this clean energy race, but to become the leader in providing clean energy technology to the world.”

4 comments:

SteveK9 said...

Once China really get's the nuclear supply chain going, I think you will see them abandon wind and solar. They just don't make sense and China will soon (10 years) have the data to prove it.

Just hearsay, but I read that some of the grid operators in China were already complaining about the difficulty of integrating wind sources.

Finrod said...

I realise that the 'nuclear industry' is not a stand-alone entity, and that its major players make more money from conventional power sources, and also have a financial stake in 'renewables', but both this and the recent pro-wind essay make for painful reading. Being required to write and publish such garbage under one's own name must be truly galling.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Steve. Nuclear is so much more feasible and efficient. While the plants are initially expensive to build, their efficiency outweighs their cost in the long run. While it is gaining speed, at the current rate that wind and solar technology is being developed I do not foresee it being highly competitive to nuclear energy, especially for the Chinese.

Robert Hargraves said...

China is now building 22 nuclear power plants. Less well understood is that China has demolished 60 GW of old coal plants. Read this Technology Review article
http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/25112/