China has made a number of significant steps towards building a future of more sustainable energy.
President Xi Jinping has made good on his commitment to increase the supply of renewable energy at the climate change conference in Paris last year, a time when the toxic smog choking streets in Beijing and Shanghai was making global headlines. I wrote about this at the time in my column “China’s energy paradox”.
More than 30,000 megawatts of wind energy was installed last year – at a peak of two wind turbines every hour – according to the International Energy Agency. That’s almost enough energy to power Thailand. The rate declined this year, though the country is still plugging in more than one turbine every hour. China is now leaps and bounds ahead of every other nation in terms of solar and wind power.
China remains one of the world’s biggest users of coal, but it started to put the brakes on mining late last year, with Beijing announcing a partial moratorium on the building of new coal-fired power plants earlier this year. This move came after authorities overestimated the demand for energy, and means some 200 coal-fired plants with a combined output of 105 gigawatts – almost three times Thailand’s electricity supply capacity – may not be built.
The energy oversupply has also led to a large number of wind turbines being switched off this year as many wind farms had been built in outlying locations where excess capacity could not be fed into the national grid.
This last issue is of particular interest. Thailand has a relatively efficient national grid. Renewable energy, especially wind and solar (and biogas to a lesser extent), offer us a greater chance of sustainable and independent energy supply.
These smaller-scale technologies could enable us to increase power and productivity across the nation, especially in harder-to-reach places. This will become increasingly important as we expand business, manufacturing and tourism across the country.
While localised power production offers a great deal of flexibility, China’s example demonstrates the importance of proper energy planning and the pitfalls of taking a more ad hoc approach. Even if we do not yet have the capacity to expand our national grid, we can make sure clean energy power plants are built in a way that enables them to be connected to the power distribution system once the infrastructure is installed.
We should certainly think about tapping our Chinese friends for advice on how best to do this.