Renewable Energy Vital for China’s Green Development
By staff reporter XING WEN
Workers construct a UHV power transmission line stretching from western Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to southern Tianjin, in January 2015.
FROM June 17 to 23, 2017, Qinghai Province powered the entire province by renewable energy for 168 hours non-stop, breaking Portugal’s record of 107 hours last year. A great step for China’s ongoing transition to clean energy, the achievement will surely boost the consumption of renewable energy and enhance further development in this regard. China’s clean energy push is among the key projects to implement its five major concepts of development: innovation, coordination, green development, opening-up, and sharing benefits.
Innovation Leads the Way
A few days later in Dalian, Chairman of State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) Shu Yinbiao revealed at the 11th Annual Meeting of the New Champions (also known as Summer Davos Forum) that the company’s technology on balancing the fluctuation of the contribution from renewable energy effectively guaranteed the latest endeavor in Qinghai.
One of the Fortune 500 enterprises and the world’s largest public utility company, SGCC attaches significant importance on developing new technologies in its participation in energy transition.
With an abundance of coal mines, China heavily relies on thermal power which generates over 70 percent of the nation’s electricity. However, environmental problems brought about by fossil fuel can no longer be overlooked. Besides, non-renewable energy hardly meets the demands of sustainable development. Aiming at shifting the country’s energy mix and enhancing green development, SGCC has been striving to create innovative technologies and achievements have been made in areas such as ultra-high-voltage (UHV) transmission and smart grids.
UHV transmission technology, with complete independent intellectual property rights owned by SGCC, is the world’s most advanced transmission technology to transmit electrical power across long distances with the highest voltage and the lowest loss. For instance, in China, hydropower can be transmitted through this technology from the southwestern region, where there are energy load centers but energy consumption is less, to the more densely populated eastern part to reduce the consumption of coal. In addition to boosting energy transformation and optimizing the energy mix at home, the UHV transmission technology has been exported to play a fundamental role in building up a global energy network.
Like China, Brazil’s energy consumption centers are far from where the resources are located. The Amazon region in the north boasts abundant water resources. Nevertheless, consumption centers like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are more than 2,000 kilometers away in the south. UHV transmission technology turns out to be an ideal choice in this case. Today, UHV transmission projects jointly built by SGCC and its Brazilian counterparts in the Amazon basin are under construction and are expected to greatly power the development of energy-hungry southern areas. In addition, Shu Yinbiao evinced SGCC’s interest in taking part in facilitating the use of solar energy from the Sahara Desert. In the near future, UHV transmission technology will help supply Europe with electricity from renewable sources in the Sahara, where the potential for solar power is seemingly limitless.
Technology innovation not only leads the way of establishing a clean energy grid, but also in the field of circular economy. Making traditional distilled Chinese white liquor usually requires a lot of energy, which causes pollution. Technologically supported by China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group (CECEP), China’s leading liquor producer Kwei-chow Moutai Group built a recycling industrial park in a move to reuse residues from its manufacturing process. According to Liu Dashan, chairman of CECEP, residues are developed as methane and organic fertilizer in this park. The former may supply power to the liquor plant while the latter can be used to grow sorghum – the main ingredient of Moutai, shaping a circular recycling system.
In recent years, clean technologies have been progressing rapidly in China where sustainable development is set as a priority. Outdated capacities such as iron and steel, coal power, and cement are being phased out to combat environmental pollution. By 2018, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area is projected to entirely replace coal with electricity for heating purposes. While benefitting local residents with less expensive energy and a self-controlled heating system, this measure is expected to curb prolonged haze pollution in the region.
On top of that, China has initiated clean water programs including wastewater treatment, water reclamation, and building sponge cities. Moreover, the market share of new energy vehicles is expanding all over the country. In view of that, “SGCC has developed a smart electric vehicle (EV) platform – the world’s largest of its kind so far – to which 160,000 charging stations and more than one million EVs across China have been connected,” said Shu Yinbiao.
New technologies are constantly coming out on China’s way to green development. Chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls Alex Molinaroli attributed the achievements China has made to innovation, cooperation, and sharing. “China is moving from an importer of technologies to a developer of technologies for the rest of the world,” he asserted. His opinion was shared by China’s Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang by pointing out China is leading clean technology development in the world. Wan Gang added that the country has gained valuable experience in this field to share and is open to global cooperation to learn from good practices. On the other hand, in Liu Dashan’s perspective, the transition to clean energy offers advanced technologies that green development requires while extending a positive influence over industrialization and commercialization of environmental protection.
Embracing Changes with Courage
Using clean energy has been on the rise in China in recent years as the nation stresses more on an integrated economic growth of quantity, quality, and efficiency. The decreasing consumption of coal is driving down the country’s CO2 emissions, which at the same time is a positive factor for the world’s CO2 emissions to stay stable at present.
“In the past 10 years, the proportion of renewable energy in power generation has surpassed 25 percent and electricity has accounted for nearly 21 percent of energy consumption in China,” Shu Yinbiao proudly gave the figures. But he also noted that China still has a long way to go to shift its traditional energy mix so that renewable energy will eventually account for 50 percent or more – a key indicator of a successful energy transition.
On the way up, China’s energy consumption will unavoidably increase for the sake of economic growth and improvement of people’s life. Therefore, it is an urgent and weighty mission for the country to realize a clean energy transition. “After the U.S. departure from the Paris Agreement, in particular, China is going to take on a more active role in reducing global carbon emissions. Meanwhile, greater attention from the international community may be given to China’s policies and moves in this regard,” Lin Boqiang, head of China Institute for Studies in Energy Policy at Xiamen University, made the remark. At the forum’s opening ceremony on June 27, 2017, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang highlighted that China will honor its commitments under the Paris Agreement and carry out climate response measures on the ground, as this is required for the nation’s green development.
Energy enterprises in China spare no efforts to cater to new requirements. Take SGCC for example, it is determined to upgrade the traditional power grid into a modern system which is not only smart, interactive and resilient, but also safe and controllable. Although the transition to clean energy might at first be painful, Wan Gang called for energy companies to embrace changes with courage. Lin Boqiang agreed with this view and advised companies to be open to new technologies since technological advancement is always the foundation of an enterprise’s development. “Extensive participation of technology innovation demands both tolerance from the society and enhanced support from the government,” Lin added.
As Wan Gang observed, energy transition is closely linked to everyone’s living needs. While connecting the upgrade of traditional industries and the advancement of new technologies, the shift of energy mix sets up a platform for entrepreneurship and innovation to benefit the society as a whole. Widely popularizing the concept of renewable energy was stressed as well by Charlotte Roule, CEO of ENGIE China, ENGIE Group. “It is necessary to raise people’s awareness when carrying out energy transition,” she stated at the forum. “All societies should work hand in hand to encourage technology innovation,” Liu Dashan explained from an entrepreneur’s perspective. “Environmental protection is a public drive. Due to its requirement for long-term investment and lower returns, it demands the concerted effort of the whole society to advance the development of new technology.”
“Today, some solutions have been devised to make clean energy more affordable, pushing forward stepping out of coal,” said Charlotte Roule, whose positive attitude showed the confidence we need when faced with energy transition. With unceasing breakthroughs in technology, cost, and policy, clean energy in China is believed to have a promising future. Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative will further foster the flow of clean technologies across borders to share the models that have proven to be successful throughout the world.