Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Renewables, Meet Coal!

From Bloomberg Businessweek, an article on development plans for renewable energy:

China unveils 2011-2015 plan for renewable energy sector (http://bit.ly/zgeWXI)
"China is targeting the development of non-fossil energy including wind power, solar power, biomass energy, solar energy, and thermal and nuclear power equivalent to 480 million metric tons of standard coal by the end of 2015, according to the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for the renewable energy industry recently released by the National Energy Administration (NEA)."
However, this should be juxtaposed to the larger story of coal, where consumption (and emissions) continue to grow unabated. A recent article in The Guardian lays it out:

China's renewables surge dampened by growth in coal consumption
While the country tripled its solar energy generating capacity in 2011 (now up to 3 GW) and also "notched increases in wind and hydropower" (generating capacity for these is already much larger) government officials are "still struggling to cap the growth in coal burning, which is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world." The article includes the stunning statistic that "after burning an extra 95m tonnes [of coal] last year, China will soon account for half the coal burned on the planet."

Some energy planners in the central government have grown concerned, and are entertaining the idea of a future cap on energy use -- but they are meeting resistance from local governments, who don't wish to sacrifice or slow economic growth, a distinct possibility with this policy. In discussions, the potential upper limit on energy use by 2015 could be in the range of 4.1 to 5 billion tons of coal equivalent per year, with local governments favoring the latter.

If this eventual limit is adopted, and the renewable development target of 480 million tons of coal-e is actually met -- by no means a sure thing -- then renewables could account for ~9.6% of energy use. If the lower target is adopted, that could rise to 11.7%. For purposes of comparison, in 2010, the United States' share of renewable energy was slightly more than 8% of all energy consumption and also continues to grow. (EIA)

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