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ENVIRONMENT-CHINA: Banking on Wind Power

Prime Sarmiento

MANILA, Jun 9 2008 (IPS) - China plans to triple its wind power capacity over the next two years in line with the central government’s goal of promoting clean energy and more sustainable economic development, says a senior policy development official.

China’s total wind power capacity now stands at 6,000 megawatts, but by end 2008 this would have reached 10,000 Mw. And by 2010, the central government will have boosted wind power production to 20,000 Mw, estimates Song Yanqin, deputy director of the research management and international collaboration division of China’s Energy Research institute (ERI). The ERI is part of the Beijing-based National Development and Report Commission, the agency tasked with implementation of energy conservation and emissions reduction programmes. "An increase in wind power capacity will help meet growing local demand and also ensure environmental protection," Song told IPS in an interview on the sidelines of the Asian Clean Energy Forum, organised here last week by the Asian Development Bank (AsDB) and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Song added that increasing wind power capacity is in line with the government’s plan to increase the share of renewable energy in the country’s total energy mix and thus help reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions.

China’s rapidly expanding economy – its average annual GDP growth has been surging at around ten percent over the past five years – has made it a major energy consumer.

China depends primarily on coal, an abundant and cheap indigenous energy resource. In the next 20 years, as China’s economy continues to rise, the Energy Information Administration forecasts that the demand for coal will grow at an annual rate of 3.5 percent.

But coal-fired power plants boost carbon emissions that hasten global warming. The World Bank reports that China has 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, largely due to high coal use.

Global warming and consequent climate change are taken seriously by the Chinese government. Already, the melting of glaciers in Tibet and Xinjiang and increased temperatures in western China threaten to reduce the rain-fed rice yields. China’s coastal areas have also suffered from extreme storm surges in the past few years that have been attributed to climate change.

"China is seeking a new development path," notes Yu Cong, director of ERI’s energy efficiency centre. Yu, who also participated in the AsDB forum, added that the Chinese government prefers a more sustainable economic development model and is striving to reduce its energy consumption. Development of renewable energy sources such as wind power is a key measure, he said.

Renewables account for only a quarter of China’s total installed capacity of over 700,000 Mw. In 2007, China consumed 2.65 million tons of coal equivalent, only 7.5 percent of which was renewable. The government hopes that by 2010 wind, hydro and solar energy will account for ten percent of total consumption.

Compared to leading wind energy producers and consumers such as Germany, Spain and the United States, China’s installed capacity is still low. But Song is confident that this will change over the next few years and that China may even emerge as the world’s biggest wind power producer. "We have the resources. Our coastlines are longer than Spain," he said.

"Although China still lags many countries in terms of total wind power installations, its recent growth rates have far exceeded the world average. An increasingly strong policy environment and a growing local manufacturing base has contributed to China’s more than doubling of its wind power capacity in 2006," says Joanna Lewis, senior international fellow at the U.S.-based Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.

In a study released in July 2007, Lewis made a comparative study of wind power development strategies in China, India and Spain. She enumerated several programmes to encourage local wind turbine manufacturing and increase the number of wind farms. These include tax breaks, concessions, competitive bidding process for wind farm development, promotion of technology transfer and subsidies on wind energy research.

Such measures will continue to support not only China’s wind power programme but also its renewable energy development plan. Subsidies, tax incentives and more funding for research can help create a "stable, predictable, and sustainable market demand" for renewable energy, said Song.

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