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Clean Energies
Special> Clean Energies
UPDATED: July 20, 2009 NO. 29 JULY 23, 2009
Clean Energy—The Ultimate Solution
As a major consumer of coal, China is facing mounting pressure, and experts are wrangling about which clean energy should come first on the government agenda

As the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China is under heavy domestic pressure to reduce carbon emissions, because a warmer and riskier earth is something we do not want to see. The international community has reached consensus in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the excessive emission of greenhouse gases will lead to undesirable consequences in the ecological system. Hence reducing carbon emissions is a mandate for all countries. In terms of coping with climate change, China, as a responsible country, will shoulder its due responsibility for its own development and its consequences. In the meantime, China is also committed to protecting the world ecological environment.

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen scheduled to be held at the end of this year, what kind of proposals will China raise?

From our own perspective, as we are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, we are voluntarily committed to reducing carbon emissions. However, on a global scale, developed countries must take the initiative, and this prerequisite has never changed. That is because their per-capita carbon emission far outpaces that of developing countries, including China.

In terms of per-capita energy consumption, Europe and Japan are three times higher than China, while the United States and Canada are six times higher. Therefore, it is a two-way street. On the one hand, developed countries should take sincere measures to cope with climate change because their overall emissions are huge. They constitute less than 20 percent of the world's population, but their aggregated greenhouse gas emissions account for over 40 percent of the world total. They are duty-bound to make greater efforts. Of course, on the other hand, developing countries should also make due contributions. Economic development relies heavily on energy supply. China lags dozens of years behind Europe and the United States in terms of industrialization. At present, global oil resources have been carved up, and the age of low oil prices has long gone. That is why it is so much more difficult for us to turn away from coal while focusing on the development of relatively clean oil and natural gas to fuel national economic growth.

Therefore, it is totally groundless if developed countries charge developing countries for using more energy. What they should really consider is how to support economic development in developing countries and reduce environmental pollution at the same time.

What is the energy structure of China?

China's energy structure is a lot different from that of developed countries. In China, about 70 percent of our energy is coal, 18 percent oil, and just 2 percent natural gas. We have some hydropower, but the proportion is small. Nuclear power accounts for less than 1 percent. But in developed countries, nuclear power takes up more than 14 percent of their energy structure. For instance, nuclear power accounts for 78 percent in France. In most of the developed countries, over 60 percent of their hydropower has been effectively used.

According to our national conditions, what kind of clean energy should we develop first? What are the problems? How can we reduce costs?

Speaking from the perspective of clean energy, coal emits the most greenhouse gases, followed by oil and natural gas, and then nuclear power, which emits almost no carbon. Nuclear power, solar power and wind power are categorized as clean energy. In addition, most renewable energies like hydropower do not have direct carbon emissions. In China, we must put the development of hydropower at the top of our agenda. At present, we have about 300 million kw of untapped hydropower. Of course, hydropower development may cause a lot of social problems, such as migration and changes in the original ecological environment. But compared with coal, the advantages of hydropower development outweigh the disadvantages.

Second, we must pour our strength into developing nuclear power. The investment in a nuclear power plant is the same as that in a wind farm, but unlike wind power, nuclear power is more stable and controllable. In addition, the operating cost of nuclear power plants is not high, thus the cost of 1 kwh of electricity can be kept at less than 0.4 yuan ($0.058), more or less the same as the cost of desulfurized coal-fired power. If nuclear power plants develop production of scale, the cost can be reduced to be equivalent to that of coal power.

If you compare nuclear power to wind power, 1 kw of installed nuclear power capacity can operate 8,000 hours a year, but the same capacity of wind power can only operate 2,000 hours a year. Therefore, a nuclear power plant is equivalent to three to four wind farms.

For China, the third priority in developing clean energy is to make full use of natural gas, which is clean, efficient and stable. In the world energy structure, 25 percent is natural gas, which is a high-quality energy and requires advanced infrastructure and sound pipelines. The expansion of natural gas development, transportation and utilization must be backed by national economic strength, because it is demanding on infrastructure and more expensive for everyday use.

It is time for China to launch large-scale exploration and usage of natural gas. The United States consumes a colossal 700 million cubic meters of natural gas, while Russia uses 300-400 million cubic meters, but the amount is only 7-8 million cubic meters in China. Therefore, the country's potential to develop natural gas is huge. To be more specific, the use of 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas can replace more than 2 tons of coal, and it is cleaner and more efficient than coal power.

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