When former U.S. Vice President Al Gore returned to Capitol Hill on March 21 to push for political action on climate change, he indicated to U.S. lawmakers that China and the United States are intertwined in their responsibilities to develop alternative energy sources. Increasingly, U.S. groups are looking to China for cooperation on developing cleaner coal, nuclear power and renewable energy sources. To truly reduce dependency on oil and shift to more environmentally friendly and economically stable energy sources, the United States must set an example, Gore said.
China and the United States are the top two oil-consuming nations. Both sides are now looking for alternatives to petroleum power, not only for their domestic energy security but also to reduce future global friction over oil reserves.
“It is time for the United States and China not only to recognize the similarity of our oil dependency status and the direction competition may take us, but to begin to talk more directly about this growing global competition for oil so that we can each develop national policies and cooperative international policies, even joint research and development projects, to cut our dependency on oil before the competition becomes truly hostile,” U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005.
Over the past three years, China and the United States have embraced a number of cooperative projects and research on oil alternatives. These projects should begin to yield results through the rest of the decade, regulators say, as the countries investigate zero-emission coal plants, nuclear energy and alternative, renewable energy sources to fuel their economies.
“In the area of cooperation, energy efficiency, clean coal, nuclear and biofuels, those are the areas that we have made a priority for our country and areas that we feel would be of benefit for the United States and China to expand our cooperation, which will help them diversify their energy mix, help them actually achieve a greater degree of energy security, and ultimately provide for a variety of sources of energy, which will improve the reliability and affordability of energy in their country as it undergoes and continues to undergo significant economic expansion,” said Karen Harbert, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs for U.S. Department of Energy, in a September 19, 2006, press briefing following the China-U.S. Energy Policy Dialogue in Beijing.
Binging on coal
Over the past five years, the world has been on a “coal-fired binge,” according to an article published in March in the Christian Science Monitor. Much of the demand is generated by China and the United States. China built two thirds of the more than 560 new coal-fired plants built around the world between 2002 and 2006, according to the report. The United States directly follows China in its pace of adding coal plants, ahead of India.
However, while China plans to reduce the growth of new coal plants in half by 2011, the United States is expected to increase its new energy capacity generated by coal plants by a whopping 1,318 percent.
Coal looks like a cheap and easy alternative to petroleum, but there is a heavy price to pay. Coal emissions dirty the air and cause global warming. A number of strategies have been proposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at these plants, such as trapping pollutants underground. These plants, called “cleaner coal” plants, have yet to be widely adopted, but they are necessary to ensure the wave of new coal-fired plants doesn’t cause environmental collapse.
Harbert with U.S. Department of Energy said the United States wished to include China more in its FutureGen Project to build an emissions-free coal-fired power plant. The $1 billion project is aimed to show how new technology can eliminate environmental concerns over the future use of coal and allow the nation to tap the full potential of its coal reserves.
“China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week. And it is certainly an environmental concern and an opportunity for China to improve its energy efficiency, its environmental record by employing clean coal technology,” Harbert said in an agency briefing. “And we are very supportive of the efforts they have done to date in their research, but we certainly are much more supportive of commercializing some of this technology and putting it into use in China and have offered to bring China more officially into our effort called the FutureGen Project, which is an initiative to build the first emissions-free coal-fired power plant in this country.”