July 26, 2009

Those poor, poor Communist

"in the next decade, China will bring on line about 1000 average-sized coal-fired power stations, equivalent to 34 times Australia's present coal-burning generation capacity. "


Chinese energy is greener than ours

IT'S hard to comprehend, Martin Ferguson said last week. The federal Minister for Resources and Energy was referring to the fact that, in the next decade, China will bring on line about 1000 average-sized coal-fired power stations, equivalent to 34 times Australia's present coal-burning generation capacity.

Ferguson's government and others in the developed world are being asked to comprehend even more than that, however. They have been repeatedly warned by the International Energy Agency that, even if the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, they cannot put the world on track to achieve stablisation of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million.

When the IEA delivers its new world energy outlook in September, ahead of the Copenhagen global warming treaty summit in December, this gobsmacking message can only be reinforced. Non-OECD countries are heading towards a collective volume of emissions of more than 25 billion tonnes a year by 2030, compared by then with less than 15 billion tonnes for the OECD nations.

In the vanguard, of course, is China, but not because it is ignoring the issue.

Ferguson could have also cited a set of startling Chinese green power statistics in his mid-July speech to the Queensland Resources Council.

By 2020 China aims to have installed 300,000MW of hydro power (equal to 80 Snowy Mountains schemes), 30,000MW of plants fuelled by agricultural waste, 1800MW of solar power and more than 50,000MW of wind farms (about four times what will be needed here to meet the Rudd renewable energy target).

This will involve spending $US33billion ($40.3bn) a year on renewable energy.

Everything about the Chinese effort is mindboggling. For example, it now employs 600,000 people (twice the population of Canberra) installing solar hot-water heaters in a $US2bn a year business. Its electric bicycle business is worth more than $US6bn a year.

Nor are its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its coal-burning generators to be underestimated. Since 2005 China has required all new large power plants to use at least high-efficiency, super-critical technology and since 2007 it has shut down smaller, inefficient plants with a capacity of 14,380MW (more generation capacity than in NSW).

This is allowing China to leapfrog the less efficient coal technology that is dominant in the developed world, including Australia.

At Yuhuan, it has commissioned 4000MW, almost as much capacity as the largest generating complex in Australia, Bayswater-Liddell, of ultra-super-critical generation, the largest operation of its kind in the world, providing power to 10 million households, with a thermal conversion efficiency of 45 per cent, about one-quarter better than conventional coal-burning generators.

What's more, the operator, Huaneng Group, the largest power company in China and rumoured to have an eye on NSW, built Yuhuan at a capital cost about 40 per cent below equivalent installation charges in the West.

There is a considerable difference of opinion in China over carbon capture and storage - opponents there, as here, point to the cost and concerns about environmental risks associated with storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide - but that hasn't stopped Huaneng pursuing its Green-gen project at the head of a consortium of seven companies. The first stage, costing $US360 million, is scheduled to deliver a capture-ready 250MW integrated, gasified combined cycle plant in the near future, to be followed by a 400MW plant with a storage add-on in 2012 and hydrogen production capacity. Stage 3 will be a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage plant.

What all this, and a great deal more, adds up to, the Chinese point out, is that they are taking targeted action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and that the transition to lower-carbon solutions is generating jobs and increased energy security.

They are on track, the optimists claim, to peak emissions there by 2020, and then to reduce emissions to an average of two tonnes a head by 2050. It is about five tonnes a person today.

The problem is that, even if they do succeed in this, and other developing countries do as well, on the IEA numbers the 450ppm target is several bridges too far.

But it does, at least, provide some perspective for the "example to the world" that Rudd, Wong and Co want to take to Copenhagen. Do you remember Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee line? "Call that a knife?"


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