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From black coal to green power

Liu Jianjun, a heavy truck driver from Zhangjiakou, north China’s Hebei province, is vexed when driving into Inner Mongolia along the Beijing-Tibet highway, China’s energy artery. He is still haunted by the nightmarish traffic jam in mid July.

In the afternoon of July 17, Liu, who has transported goods along the Beijing-Tibet highway for years, felt something wrong when entering Zhuozi county, Inner Mongolia. The smooth traffic stream slowed down, with endless trucks wriggling their way on the road.

In 40 hours, Liu’s truck crawled only 100 kilometers by fits and starts. Liu could not reach the destination, though it was quite close at hand. Along with Liu, 20,000 vehicles were jammed in the way.

The vehicles, from two thirds of Chinese provinces, shared a same destination, Erdos, a world famous supplier of raw cashmere. They queued up, however, not for the “white soft gold” of cashmere, but for coal, the “black hard gold.”

Coal has tipped the scales at the Chinese economy and people’s lives. Coal has accounted for about 70 percent of China’s energy mix, 30 percentage points higher than the world average.

Heavy reliance on coal to boost the economy has led to serious atmospheric pollution and ecological damage, severely impeding China’s sustainable development.


China, world’s largest energy producer and consumer, consumed 3.25 billion tonnes primary energy in 2010, when converted to standard coal. It was 32 percent higher than in 2005. Per capital consumption averaged 2.38 tonnes standard coal in 2010. China’s energy output stood at 2.99 billion tons standard coal in the year.

To save energy and reduce emission, China plans to control total energy consumption and make energy consumption grow at slower paces in the next five years.

Under the draft plan for energy industry for 2011-2015, China’s energy consumption will grow 4.8 percent annually, compared with 5.8 percent annual growth since 1980, says Xu Dingming, counselor of State Council.

China targets to reduce energy consumption per 10,000 yuan (1,563 U.S. dollars) of gross domestic product (GDP) to 0.869 tonnes of standard coal in 2015, a 16 percent decrease from 1.034 tonnes in 2010. Total energy saved during 2011-2015 will be equivalent to 670 million tons (tonnes) of standard coal.

To meet the total energy consumption controlling target means overcoming many obstacles as local governments ask for larger energy consumption targets for the purpose of local economic development.

This year, the national energy-saving objective is to decrease energy consumption by 3.5 percent on the basis of last year's level. That is to say, if GDP increases 9 percent this year, the year-on-year increase in energy consumption needs to be held below 5.2 percent.

Yet China's apparent consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas in the first half of 2011 has increased by more than eight percent.

The National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration are jointly planning the introduction of an energy consumption controlling mechanism.


China has shown firm determination to develop renewable energy in the coming five years.

China plans to add non-fossil energy consumption by 210 million tonnes of coal equivalent during 2011-2015. Total non-fossil energy consumption is targeted to reach 470 million tonnes of coal equivalent by 2015, accounting for 11.5 percent of total energy consumption in China, said Xu Dingming.

The target includes, of coal equivalent, hydropower at 280 million tonnes, nuclear power at 90 million tonnes, and other renewable energies, namely, wind power, solar power, and biomass energy, at 100 million tonnes.

China is planning to increase conventional hydropower installed capacity to 260 million kilowatts by the end of 2015, including 30 million kilowatts of pumped storage generating capacity.

Thus annual hydropower output in China is expected to reach 910 billion kilowatt hours by the end of 2015. In order to realize the target, China will promote construction of eight 10-million-kilowatt hydropower bases in west China.

But hydropower projects are double-edged swords. They leave ecological side effects and even threaten survival of aquatic animals and plants in the course of bringing about clean energy.

Zhang Guoba, former head of National Energy Bureau, says China should develop hydropower in the condition of protecting ecological environments.

Meanwhile, the grid-connected wind power installed capacity is designed to hit 100 million kilowatts by the end of 2015, including 25 million kilowatts of distributed wind power installed capacity. With growing installed capacity, annual electricity output by wind power is expected to reach 190 billion kilowatts hours by the end of 2015.

China plans to increase solar PV installed capacity to nine million kilowatts by the end of 2015, including 1 million kilowatts in solar thermal power installed capacity, and expand application of solar energy water heater to 400 million square meters by the end of 2015.

China also targets to raise biomass energy installed capacity to 13 million kilowatts by 2015 from 5.5 million kilowatts by the end of 2010, with an average annual growth of 18.77 percent. Of the targeted 13 million kilowatts installed capacity, 8 million kilowatts are of woody biomass.

China is to raise geothermal power installed capacity to 100,000 kw by 2015, and build one or two 10,000-kilowatt tidal power stations and 50,000-kilowatt ocean power plants before end of 2015.

To support the development of renewable energy generation, subsidy policies for renewable energy product will be granted and direct trading will be encouraged between renewable energy generators and power consumers.

China will promote setting up a renewable energy generating portfolio standard, and specifying the weight of investment in renewable energy generation projects in total investment of large power producers as well as targeted consumption volume of electricity generated by renewable energy in each provinces.


Despite China exerts great effort to promote the weight of non-fossil energies, fossil energy remains the main force in China’s power supply.

Xu says China's fossil energy consumption is targeted at 3.63 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by 2015.

The target consists of 3.82 billion tonnes of raw coal, 500 million tonnes of oil, and 230 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Coal would weigh 63.6 percent in the country's total primary energy consumption by 2015, down 7.3 percentage points from the 70.9 percent in 2010.

China will go on eliminating outdated small thermal power generating units, featuring high energy consumption and severe pollution.

In the past five years, China shut down thousands of outdated small thermal power generating units, totaling 72GW. It equals the total installed capacity of Britain. It saves 81 million tonnes raw coal and reduces emission of 160 million tonnes carbon dioxide each year.

Due to lack of experiences in massive commercial running, China is in the demonstration phase of developing modern coal chemical projects.

China would take a "prudent" development way for the coal chemical industry during 2011-2015. Except for encouraging expansion projects in coal-to-gas (CTG), and coal-to-alcohol ether, China will strictly control the scale of coal-to-liquid (CTL) projects, especially direct CTL projects.

Industry officials propose to use more natural gas, cleaner and more efficient, to break away from excessive reliance on coal.

Natural gas accounts for about four percent of China's primary energy consumption. The percentage is about one sixth of the world's average. China could boost the development of natural gas, as it is rich in reserves and less expensive in price.

The use of more natural gas will also help alleviate China’s rising dependence on imported oil, which is threatening the country's energy security.

In the first five months of this year, China's dependence on imported oil rose to 55.2 percent, up from 55 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2009, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Industry officials expect China's dependence on imported oil would jump to 60 percent by 2020 and 65 percent by 2030.


China’s annual power consumption is expected to increase by 12 percent year-on-year to 4.7 trillion kilowatts, said China Electricity Council.

Due to unbalanced spread of newly-built power generation capacity, uncoordinated grids construction, and less newly-built coal-fired power capacity, China will face tight power supply in the latter half of this year.

They include five southern provinces served by China Southern Power Grid, which are Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunan, Guizhou, and Hainan. They are predicted to suffer a shortfall of eight percent in power supply in the third quarter of 2011, and the shortage may peak 12 million kilowatts, said the China Southern Power Grid Corp.

But at present, approximate 6 million kW thermal generating capacity in south China is lying idle due to short coal supply, and 4.5 million kW capacity is not functioning normally due to use of low-quality coal, which combine to take 10 percent of total thermal generating capacity of China Southern Power Grid.

Besides, power generators maintain severe losses on high coal price despite hikes in electricity feed-in tariffs.

Liu Zhenya, general manager of State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), says the fundamental realities of the country decide China must develop large energy bases in the north and west and deliver them over long distances to end users in the central and eastern economic powerhouses.

SGCC will invest more than 600 billion yuan in the construction of ultra-high voltage (UHV) power transmission projects before 2020.

UHV, defined as voltage of 1,000kv or above in alternating current and 800kv or above in direct current, is designed to transmit large currents of power over long distances with more efficient power losses than the typically used 500kv lines.

The company expected UHV capacity to reach 300 million kilowatts by 2020.

While more coal will be burnt into thermal power and transmitted with UHV lines, road transportation of coal will also be smoother.

To improve the transportation capacity and alleviate traffic jams, Inner Mongolia has set to expand the most bustling section Beijing-Tibet highway in the region, from Huhhot to Baotou, since last October. In bi-direction, the driveways will be expanded from four lanes to eight lanes.

The expansion project is proceeding vigorously. When the project is completed in late 2012, Liu Jianjun and his co-drivers will no longer suffer much when driving coal-loaded trucks in the section.

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