China Leads the Way on Clean Energy

Phil Wilcock
Jan 25, 2011

I have to hold my hands up and say that I I wouldn’t have believed it possible to write that title a year ago. Back then most of the publicity around China’s energy story was based around the seemingly insatiable demand for more and more power and the number of new coal fired power stations that were springing up like daisies.

The growth in consumption there is still eye watering by western standards though. China’s electricity consumption grew by 14.56 per cent last year to more than 4.19 trillion kWh, according to new figures from the China Electricity Council (CEC). However, their figures also show that clean energy sources account for more than a quarter of all electricity generated.

Most of China’s clean energy comes from Hydro power stations, providing 213.4 GW (up from 196 GW in 2009). Wind power also increased significantly, almost doubling and reaching 31.07 GW. Nuclear power increased slightly from 9 GW to 10.82 GW.

Interestingly, due to its clean energy increases and its interest in reducing its carbon emissions, China shut down a number of fossil-fuel power plants. In total, output from such plants was cut about 11 GW. This trend is mirrored in Europe where France will shut down about half its coal-fired power stations by 2015, Germany’s RWE AG, the single largest carbon emitter in Europe, said it won’t build new coal-fired power plants, and here in the UK it has been agreed that we will build no new coal plants without carbon-capture technology.

The problem that looms with all of this clean energy generation of course is how to get it to where it’s required. The so called ‘Smart Grid’ is being talked about a lot recently, and it’s a massive hurdle that must be tackled soon. It’s a race to develop solutions that will effectively store energy where it’s needed before conventional sources expire, but there are already promising projects underway. In New York, Beacon Power has been building a flywheel-based energy storage plant that could provide up to 20 megawatts of stored energy capacity to balance the state’s energy frequency regulation needs.

The other major problem is energy waste.Here at 1E we have been helping businesses conserve energy through our PC Power Management and Server Power Management tools for over ten years. Although we’re proud of the millions of Kilowatt hours and carbon that 1E customers are saving, this pales into insignificance when you consider just how much electricity doesn’t even make it to your power socket!

Current archaic systems here in the UK lose a phenomenal amount of generated energy ‘in the system’. In the UK for instance, 65 per cent of the input energy used to generate electricity in the UK is lost somewhere along the way, whether as waste heat, transmission losses or other inefficiencies. In 2009, for example, 921 terawatt-hours of energy flowed into Britain’s electricity grid, but only 322 terawatt-hours flowed out in the form of productive power for industry, transport, consumer uses and other purposes.

That’s a scary amount of waste, and one that surely must be tackled head on in the coming years, but for now we could learn a lot from China, who seems to be setting the pace in energy efficiency and clean energy generation.

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