China’s Pivot

China power

Wind and solar energy from Yiyang County in Henan Province, China. Photo c/o china.org.cn

China, the world’s biggest polluter, is making a significant shift.

At the start of the year, the world’s largest consumer of energy has announced that it will pour some $361 billion by 2020 into renewable energy investments.

The announcement came after China raised its very first national red alert for smog as two dozens of cities in the country suffered from the air pollution, where officials warned citizens of a possible reduction in visibility to less than 500 meters. The smog, which is a clear manifestation of high air pollution forced airlines to cancel flights.

China, the country that uses more than half of the world’s coal is now working on sourcing a big chunk of its energy needs from renewables.

Its economic planning office, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has said it plans to boost the capacity of solar power by five times.  The country will also spend one trillion yuan in solar, 700 billion yuan in wind energy and 500 billion in hydropower with tidal power.

At present, the country generates the most renewable energy in the world. As of 2015, China accounts for 199 GW of the world’s 785 GW produced RE capacity excluding hydropower. It has drawn up a total of 199 GW of RE, while all European countries combined and the United States only generated 276 GW and US 122 GW, respectively. The country is also the largest wind generator for the same year, producing some 30.8 GW, more than thrice the generated wind capacity of the United States and Germany at 8.6 and 5.7 GW.

China also outpaced all other countries in RE investments for the same period as its RE investments reached $102.9 billion. The amount is almost three times higher than $49.8 billion of investments of poured in by European and US of $44.1 billion.

Even before the announcement of massive investment into renewables, the Chinese government has already made it clear that it is serious in its drive to lessen its carbon emissions. Last September, the government canceled some 103 planned and under construction coal power plant projects with a combined total generating capacity of 120 GW. Just this March, the government also announced that it would either be shutting down or postponing a total of 50 GW coal projects.

With all these developments, China is poised to become the world’s leader in the global fight on climate change especially since US President Trump has headed in the opposite direction. And in the words of Greenpeace East Asia’s spokesman Li Shuo: “China has transformed itself from climate bad boy into a reluctant leader, and at the Paris climate change talks, really a true leader.”

But China’s change in gears isn’t only about towards a greener environment. It is also an economic strategy according to experts. In a report, a professor at King’s College London, Nick Butler notes that the new energy direction also aims to reduce China’s reliance on imported supplies and to create a modern economy that provides more jobs as its economy continues its transition. After all, the announced investment is seen to generate some 13 million jobs.

“Having managed the transition from a predominantly agricultural economy to one based on heavy industry, basic manufacturing, and construction, China must develop a more complex economy with a rise in services, consumption, and higher value added,” Butler said.

China’s pivot is an excellent example of how shifting to greater use of renewables comes with enormous benefits. Indeed, this significant change will pave the way for a cleaner environment as well as provide more jobs needed by its citizens.

The Philippines should take note of this shift given that the State Grid of China Corp. (SGCC) is a major investor in our transmission company National Grid Corporation or NGCP. The Philippines will stand to gain from this Chinese pivot if SGCC will help the campaign for RE in our country.

References:

http://www.newsweek.com/china-issues-first-national-smog-red-alert-538121

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/china-green-energy-superpower-charts/

http://asian-power.com/power-utility/exclusive/china-dead-serious-its-greener-energy-mix#sthash.Nfl1olmQ.dpuf

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-energy-renewables-idUSKBN14P06P

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-02/china-coal-cuts-and-renewables-transform-climate-change-leader/8316660

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-china-is-planning-ahead-for-life-after-coal-a7725621.html

More Reasons to Believe and Reflections by DiCaprio

The report, Renewables Global Futures Report: Great Debates Towards 100 % Renewable Energy, showed that the majority of energy experts expect a continuous drop in the costs of RE technologies within the next decade. The revelations of the report shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. This isn’t the first time we have heard of such expression of confidence in the ability of RE to take the place of conventional power sources in the energy mix.

In terms of pricing, various experts have already predicted that solar is likely to be the next king. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for one, has already said that the global average of solar cost might be lower than coal by the year 2025, as solar prices have already dropped by 62% since 2009. In my own personal experience the cost of panels went down by 35% in a span of less than one year.

Recent developments around the world have given energy experts more reasons to believe that an RE domination is indeed plausible. I share this view.

For example, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC’s top producing nation, Saudi Arabia, is now investing heavily in renewable energy and its government intends to pour in $30 to $50 billion investments in renewables. The oil-rich kingdom is now in the planning stage of developing some 10 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2023, starting off with solar and wind plants in the northwestern part of the country.  This move would replace some 80,000 barrels of oil daily used to supply its energy needs.

saudi-arabia-solar

Solar panels at King Abdulaziz City of Sciences and Technology, Saudi Arabia. Photo c/o Reuters

Aside from the falling cost of RE globally, the world is moving towards making a significant shift as evidenced by the closure of coal plants.

The report Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline made by environmental groups, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm showed that closure or retirement of coal plants is at an unprecedented pace as total capacity of closed coal plants totaled to 64 GW in the last two years.

The study also showed a slowdown in construction of new power plants as there has been a 48% drop in the preconstruction activity and 62% decrease in construction of new coal plants from January last year up to January 2017.  India and China combined, have frozen some 100 coal projects totaling to 68 GW.

Such developments only show that the world is moving towards greener forms of energy. But while there has been much progress in shifting to more renewable sources for the world’s energy needs, the report stressed that there are still challenges in developing renewable energy.

Social awareness on the benefits of RE sources is considered as a major hurdle, according to the report.  “The lack of awareness that renewables are already economically competitive was also considered problematic.”

Additionally, the study also stressed the need to address energy policies if we are to move towards greater use of RE.  “The absence of long-term thinking in energy policy and the lack of specific policies for the high penetration of renewable energy systems were also seen as huge challenges,” the report stressed.

Such thoughts of the authors only echo what I have been saying for quite some time now.  Our energy planners had failed to look at the long-terms effects of choosing traditional sources of energy over renewable ones without looking at how such a choice hurts our environment. For a long-time, many energy planners refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. “Costs” as defined by current energy planners do not factor in risk. As a result, we can make seriously flawed options in our choice for energy source.

This penchant for only considering the short-term profits in energy planning is one of the topics tackled in the documentary, Before the Flood, produced by National Geographic and Oscar awardee, Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the interviewees in the documentary, environmental scientist, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, Michael Mann noted how leaders and large global corporations have pushed the world into ignoring the effects of traditional sources of energy: “These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short-term, fossil fuel profits, so we end up in a degraded planet.”

Unfortunately, we are now suffering the consequences of our short-sightedness, refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. DiCaprio, in the documentary, offered a reflection, which energy planners should be asking themselves: “Imagine the world right now if we’d taken the science of climate change seriously back then. Since then our population has grown by five billion people and counting. The problem has become more difficult to solve.”

There is, however, some glimmer of hope as some energy planners are now seeing the need to replace traditional sources of power with renewables as evidenced by the growth in investments in the sector. In 2015 alone, global investments in RE reached some $256.8 billion; double the amount poured in fossil power for the same year. The rise of renewables is undeniable, as even developing nations that suffer most from the effects of climate change are investing more in renewables compared to the rich countries. It seems like a great number of energy planners is seeing the value of choosing cleaner energy options.

Many planners still reject the idea of renewables dominating the energy mix, despite the recent development on RE, particularly, the falling costs of both wind and solar power prices. But perhaps the predictions by energy experts about the falling prices of RE, recent developments such as the one in Saudi Arabia, coupled with a strong campaign for renewables, will do the trick. Convincing energy planners and policy makers that the best way to move forward with our energy needs is to develop more renewable sources is a tedious task but must be done nevertheless.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-14/saudis-warm-to-solar-as-opec-s-top-producer-aims-to-help-exports

REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report

http://www.ren21.net/future-of-renewables/global-futures-report/

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Boom-and-Bust-2017/

Not All Talk

No doubt that climate change is attracting attention from various sectors—the church, governments, private firms and successful individuals.

And Climate Change is taking center stage once more as with the case of the US Presidential Elections. Based on the report of New York Times, the topic of climate change is the focus of the US presidential elections, unlike previous ones where the topic was rarely discussed. The Democrats with its party nominee Hillary Clinton is pushing for taxes on carbon pollution and Bernie Sanders who lost to Clinton for the Democrats’ nomination said that “this election is about climate change.”  The report also quoted the president of the League of Conservation Voters, Gene Karpinski saying “The elevated conversation about climate change in this election is truly historic,” adding that “In 2012, no one asked about it, and the candidates didn’t talk about it.”

Awareness, too, about climate change, is apparent among consumers. Cone Communications, a US-based public relations firm reported that consumers list climate change as the top complex CSR topic that they can both define and explain.  Related topics such biodegradable, renewable resources and greenhouse emissions, follow climate change as topics that consumers can extensively discuss.

However, climate change is not merely a subject of conversation since actions match the discourse with many familiar big brands leading the way to cleaner energy consumption. We have seen large firms increase their commitment to using renewable energy through signed purchase power agreements to 3.23 GW in 2015, tripling their commitment from 1.18 the previous year. And 2016 is off to a good start since companies have already committed to 0.59 GW of RE as of July 15 according to Business Renewables Center.  Not surprising since influential global businesses and their leaders are united in pushing 100 percent use of renewable electricity by the private sector, which accounts for roughly half of the globe’s power consumption.

For example, a global initiative of influential businesses called RE100 and committed to using more renewable energy in businesses was launched in 2014.  Big brands such as Google, Hewlett-Packard, Coca Cola, H&M, Goldman Sachs Group, Johnson & Johnson and Astra Zeneca, to name a few are part of this initiative. Google, the biggest corporate consumer of renewable energy has committed to buying 2.2 gigawatts of RE and investing some $2.5 billion for renewable energy development projects. It intends to use 100 percent renewable energy for its operations in the future.

Last year, the world’s billionaires, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Virgin’s Group Richard Branson, among others, launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The coalition that’s composed of more than 25 investors will fund clean energy companies in their infancy stage as its members agree that: “The world needs widely available energy that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon. The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world.”

mission-innovation

Business leaders and politicians share the same stage at the launch of Mission Innovation. photo c/o The Guardian

 

Along with the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition is the birth of Mission Innovation, a union of the European Union and 20 other countries that intend to double state-funded research initiatives on clean energy. Mission Innovation’s goal is simple: “Accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation to achieve performance breakthroughs and cost reductions to provide widely affordable and reliable clean energy solutions that will revolutionize energy systems throughout the world over the next two decades and beyond.”

Clearly, climate change is a problem that everyone is eager to address. And there is hope that we can head towards a greener and cleaner future with the actions of our leaders from various sectors.

References:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/us/politics/climate-change-divide-bursts-to-forefront-in-presidential-campaign.html

http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/KeyRenewablesTrends.pdf

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-07/google-to-provide-seed-funding-for-renewable-energy-in-asia

http://www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2015-cone-communications-ebiquity-global-csr-study

http://www.businessrenewables.org/corporate-transactions/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/30/bill-gates-breakthrough-energy-coalition-mark-zuckerberg-facebook-microsoft-amazon

http://www.breakthroughenergycoalition.com

http://mission-innovation.net

http://there100.org/re100

http://blog.rmi.org/blog_2016_08_31_community_scale_solar_can_power_corporations_too