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Cutting the costs of clean energy

Addressing energy scarcity and climate change means adopting new energy sources. This poses different challenges for rich than for poor nations, writes Lin Boqiang.

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Developing nations are crucial to cutting carbon dioxide emissions. For this reason, their mode of growth and energy structure must move towards a low-carbon, cleaner and renewable energy path. Besides climate change, developing nations like China need to deal with energy scarcity and environmental issues: the development of sources of clean energy needs to be in line with their interests. Clean energy has been given greater prominence than ever before as part of many countries’ economic stimulus packages; it is seen as a new industrial revolution and source of economic growth for the new century. The time for clean energy has come.

In China, clean energy is moving ahead at full speed. Take wind power as an example: by the end of last year, China had installed wind power generating capacity of 12.21 GW, making China the largest wind power generator in Asia and fourth in the world. At Jiuquan, in Gansu province, work has started on the world’s first single-site 10 gigawatt wind farm connected to the grid, which is set to cost over 120 billion yuan (US$17.6 billion). But research by China’s National Development and Reform Commission and State Electricity Regulatory Commission found that one-third of wind power capacity is running idle due to an inability to get the power to the national grid. This means losses for wind power generators and a waste of money and resources all round.

Clean energy costs more than conventional alternatives, which is why China has not developed the sector on a large enough scale. Apart from higher generating costs, clean energy also requires more spending on the electricity transmission grid – large-scale use of clean energy will significantly increase the cost burden for power firms. Current policy and subsidies are targeted at power generation, but the extra grid costs have not been dealt with. Solving those cost issues is crucial. Internationally, this is handled by government subsidy or increased electricity prices.

Developed countries are better able to pay for clean energy. Public concern for the environment is closely related to income – and the Chinese, with their average annual income of US$2,000, should not be expected to be as environmentally aware as an average American, who earns around $40,000. The public in developed nations are both more willing and more able to pay up. It is therefore easier for their governments to mobilise the public in support of clean energy and environmental protection – and to have them pay for it by increasing electricity costs.

The governments of developing nations have different concerns to their counterparts in the developed world. The United States government can claim success if it maintains the current standard of living; in developing nations, governments aim to increase that standard of living and become middle-income nations. These different aims inevitably mean different choices in energy policy. Developing nations have more limited choices when it comes to energy structure. Promoting economic growth requires cheap energy – and coal, the cheapest and most abundant source of energy for many countries– is the first choice. Cheap coal means cheap electricity and a competitive economy. Rising electricity prices would cause public discontent and impact on standards of living.

India – like China – relies mainly on coal for its energy needs. This will only change if the funds and technology to develop clean energy, such as wind and nuclear power, are provided. India will not choose clean energy on its own. Nuclear power is currently the most competitive of clean energy sources. But if it is to be adopted on a large scale by developing nations, technological advances will be needed to make it competitive with coal.

To address climate change, the developed nations need to be more understanding and offer greater financial and technological support. First, developed nations should undertake greater emissions cuts themselves, and assist cuts in developing nations with funding and technology transfers – in line with the “polluter pays” principle. Second, developed nations must recognise and understand the issues of economic growth and resulting energy demand, per capita emissions, the scope for choice in energy policy and the ability to pay for low-carbon growth in developing countries. Third, developed countries should recognise that since we all share the same planet, helping developing nations address climate change is also helping themselves. Fourth, developed nations must help China to find a sustainable low-carbon path and also prepare to tackle the issue of India’s emissions.

China also needs to resolve the problem of the cost of clean energy. In the short term, China should continue its financial subsidies; in the mid- to long-term, it will need to adjust the price of electricity. There is now great public enthusiasm for clean energy, China is making big plans and hopes for new policies are high, although there is a certain amount of unchecked development in the sector. If clean energy is to become the engine of economic growth, planning and enthusiasm will not be enough – the costs that can be borne and the degree to which the cost of electricity can be adjusted need to be considered. The current subsidies are very important, but they are not enough.

China must develop clean energy, but it needs to minimise the costs and avoid the waste of funds and resources, such as idling turbines. There is huge scope for clean energy use in China, but if it is to become a new focus of growth for local economies then, alongside policy support and subsidies, the transmission grid must be linked to generating capacity and able to move large amounts of power over long distances.

Lin Boqiang is professor at the Center of China Energy Economics Research, Xiamen University, and a member of the Changjiang Scholars Program.

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评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

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评论 comments

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匿名 | Anonymous



Waste is such a common thing

Looking at the life by our side, waste is found everywhere. We all know about the truth of economy what we have almost never done because of either disremembrance or the thinking that the waste is too little to care. That is always the excuse for the waste. It is hard for the minority to do saving in such a circumstances. Therefore, reducing waste from those small and fundamental points is needed to be established. -- Morning

(The comment was translated by Li Huan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Li Huan翻译

I disagree with the first sentence

"Addressing energy scarcity and climate change means adopting new energy sources". No it does not. It means that those who consume energy and/or products whose manufacture and disposal require much energy must change their behaviour.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Li Huan翻译

The costs of conventional energy

Clean energy does not cost more than conventional sources. The price is different. A primary reason why we (including China) are now in such a mess is that the cost of climate change, pollution, poor health etc have not been included in the price of conventional fuel. This is a major and unfair, trade-distorting subsidy.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



- Translated by Guo Chen

Alternative energy

There is high potential for wind and solar energy in China. High winds on the eastern coast is prime for on and off-shore wind farms. Hot summers and dry weather of Gansu and Xinjiang fosters a perfect environment for solar energy projects. Let's think to move our energy and economy away from finite resources like coal, oil and uranium and look towards infinite resources of sun and wind.



Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Solve the practical problem and reduce resource wasting!

From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, we should first remove the root causes and cure the apparent symptoms, and lastly do the operation. At present, the most important solution is to cut the energy consumptions of high energy consuming enterprises, and to apply the technological innovation and upgrade to such enterprises; if the solution fails, the enterprises will be closed down. Then we will see how much of the efforts in dealing with these enterprises will equal that of building Efficiency Power Plants (EPP), and how much energy (especially the national energy resources) is saved. My suggestion is this: don’t excessively invest in developing new energies. Instead of spending largely on the new energy investment and development, we should rather devote ourselves into the technological innovation, energy saving and consumption reduction of the high energy consuming enterprises. In addition, we should also strictly examine the assessment in economic investment, energy resources, and environment as well as carry on the environment monitoring and control. In environment protection, to solve the problem and try to improve the situation afterwards (what we call in Chinese is “mending the fold after a sheep is lost”) is meaningless. -- Beautiful Homes
(This comment is translated by Jieping Hu)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



a better approach

Solar and wind take 7 to 12 years in full operation to payback the CO2 emission in fabrication erection disposal before becoming CO2 neutral. Coal fired units are defacto volcanoes emission nitrates sulfates CO2 for C4 vegetation to sequester back into soil for other food crops to grow. Addressing emission reduction is desirable now but more critical is lowering mass CO2 build up before global cooling settles. Reversing deserts putting Farmers back to helping reparation is first job for PRC

Robert Vincin Beijing

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


Robert Vincin 北京


Above response
You certainly run good article however your Chinese translation appears to be by machine
and far from close. Your audience would increase
Should I submit in future English and accurate Chinese and how should we do this
How do we communicate with you
Robert Vincin Beijing

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


罗伯特,我希望我正确地理解了你的意思。你是在讨论对抗沙漠化,还是在讨论扭转现有的沙化土地?后者属于生态系统的转型:要转变新疆和甘肃的沙漠,使他们变成农地或者单一种植的土地来暂时储存二氧化碳,这是不可能的。为求简要,我不打算展开讨论全球降温,但在燃煤装置内置入“洗涤器”仅仅是这一难题其中的一小部分。从长远来看,正如第五条评论所言,最关键的是整体减少能源消耗。社会营销战略需要约束消费量,并介除中国城市对能源的贪婪需求。此种转变始于教育和合作,而受党其中就是要先受到 CCP 承认。张素梅翻译

Curbing Consumption

Robert, I hope I am understanding your correctly, but are you discussing combating desertification or reversing deserts? The latter being that of ecosystem modification, it is not possible to transform the deserts of Xinjiang and Gansu into farming plots or tree monocultures for carbon sequestration. For sake of brevity I'm not going to address global cooling, but fitting coal power plants with "scrubbers" is just a tiny piece of the puzzle. In the long run, as comment #5 wrote, an overall reduction in energy consumption is crucial. Social marketing campaigns need to address curbing consumption and weening Chinese cities' voracious appetite for energy. Such change comes through education and cooperation, and first needs to be recognized by the CCP.


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous







[email protected]


About the translation

Dear Mr. Vincin

Thanks for your advice!

Your comments are very good. But many professional science terms give some challenges to our volunteer translators. It'd be appreciated if you can submit comments in both English and Chinese, which is doable.

Following is my email address. Let's get in touch. I'm more than happy to do with it.

[email protected]

Managing Editor