China to Spend Billions on Alternative Energy
China is to spend billions on alternative energy and many times more on oil and coal.
Tim Johnson of Knight Ridder reports that barely a dozen years ago the country didn't need deep-sea oil ports, massive tank farms and a brawny foreign policy to procure oil in far-flung spots.
Today, China is an oil-guzzling dragon with a voracious thirst, much like the United States. Supertankers stretching three football fields in length now wait to enter China's deep-sea ports.
The busiest oil terminal is at Ningbo on the East China Sea. Shipping records show that in November, supertankers arrived there from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Yemen, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Congo to feed a craving that's helped drive up crude oil prices, rattle global politics and put China and the United States at odds in some of the world's most unstable regions.
China's thirst for oil has emboldened Iran and complicated the refugee crisis in Sudan. With its economy growing at a 9 percent annual rate, China is also courting many of America's oil suppliers, including Canada and Venezuela.
Increasingly, the United States and China are throwing elbows as global rivals for energy. The tussle could get more aggressive if the two nations can't manage to co-exist in the global energy contest.
"We've got to start those discussions before the race for oil becomes as hot and dangerous as the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a Nov. 30 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. "If we let it go, this could end up in real military conflict, not just economic conflict." It is interesting to note that this "race for oil" is framed as a zero sum game in which one country wins and another loses. An alternative would be international cooperation to maximise energy efficiency, minimise pollution and radically increase renewable energy.
Compared with the United States, which consumes 25 percent of the world's annual oil output, China burns only 6 percent of the world's production. Yet its energy use is rising steeply.
China exported more oil than it imported until 1993, when imports began to surge. This year, it's importing 3.4 million barrels a day, and some estimates say that within a decade it'll need 7 million barrels a day. Within two decades, demand could reach 12 million barrels a day, which would equal U.S. imports today. China's oil thirst since 2000 has accounted for 40 percent of the global demand growth for crude oil.
Senior Chinese officials grow testy at the suggestion that China's rising needs are roiling oil markets, saying the nation is following a natural path to prosperity.
"Some people complain that China is driving up oil prices. They think the reason lies in China's high consumption of oil," said Zhang Guobao, the vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. But Zhang said that China's per capita energy consumption is one-sixth of developed countries and deserves to rise.
"Chinese people want to live a prosperous life. So the world should respect China's right to development," Zhang said. In other words Zhang is saying the Chinese have a right to an energy rich lifestyle, sound familiar?
China still wastes energy, leaving huge potential savings from efficiency. To generate $1 million in economic output, China needs eight times more oil -- or its energy equivalent -- than Japan does. Chinese officials claim a turnabout in efficiency is under way. Last summer, China made fuel standards for cars more stringent than those in the United States, and a campaign is afoot to ramp up reliance on renewable energy. The United States and other western nations have an opportunity to help China to become as energy efficient as possible as fast as possible rather than trying to sell Chinese consumers gas guzzling SUVs.
Some experts suggest long-term projections on China's energy needs may be premature because the nation is capable of rapid adaptation and change, and of greater reliance on its vast coal reserves.
Some 68 percent of China's power comes from coal, and the nation is building electric power plants at a rate never seen before on Earth, fueling them from unsafe shafts where thousands of miners are killed each year.
China built power plants this year generating 68 gigawatts of electricity and plans 80 more gigawatts of capacity in 2006, equal to the entire capacity of Britain.
"It took the U.K. 110 years to build those 80 gigawatts," said James M. Brock, an expert who advises the Beijing office of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a U.S. consultancy.
Nonetheless, China is seeking oil security differently than other countries in East Asia. It has sent its three major state-owned oil companies to scour the globe and invest in foreign oil companies and oil fields. China, a relative newcomer to capitalism, allegedly deeply mistrusts the global oil markets, viewing them as distastefully volatile.
Some analysts believe China's strategy has led it to bid heavily -- and even to overpay -- for some assets. It's adapted a very 19th century approach to energy security, where you seek an almost mercantilist lock-up of energy sources," said John J. Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington public policy organization.
China has some reason to be nervous. While imported oil makes up only about 12 percent of China's total energy needs, its energy lifelines increasingly lead to the volatile Middle East. Some 60 percent of China's oil imports come from the Persian Gulf region. Supertankers carrying the oil must pass through the pirate-infested Malacca Straits off Malaysia, where China's oil is protected by the U.S. Navy. China is beefing up its own navy, but it still can't protect faraway sea-lanes. To diversify its suppliers, China has gone oil shopping in Central Asia, West Africa and even in South and North America.
Sometimes, Chinese oil companies simply bid high, as CNOOC, one of the national oil companies, did last summer when it offered $18.5 billion for the California oil company Unocal, a deal that was derailed by Capitol Hill critics who suggested that it threatened U.S. national security.
At other times, Chinese diplomats trail the state oil companies, sweetening investment bids with offers of few-strings-attached aid packages, hands-off political support and weapons.
"Everywhere the Chinese go in the developing world, they go with a lot of development money" said Gal Luft, a Washington-based analyst and the executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a non-profit organization that focuses on the relationship between energy needs and the economy and national security.
China has offered large amounts of development aid in Africa, where it gets 28 percent of its imported crude and plays an increasingly important diplomatic role.
Last year, China gave Angola, its second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, a $2 billion oil-backed loan to help repair its war-ravaged national infrastructure.
China has courted oil-rich nations such as Sudan, Venezuela and Iran that are officially out of favour with Washington, even dangling the possibility of using its United Nations Security Council veto to protect them against sanctions.
China last year repeatedly blocked U.N. attempts to punish Sudan for failing to stop atrocities in its Darfur region. China owns a 40 percent stake in the major oil consortium drilling in Sudan, and it buys half of Sudan's crude exports.
Eyeing Nigeria's oil fields, China has offered Lagos some $7 billion in investments and said it may sell the country fighter jets too.
Iran which won pledges from China last year for $70 billion worth of oil and natural gas deals, also enjoys vital support from Beijing. Iran now appears confident that it can resist pressure from the European Union and the United States over its nuclear program, certain that China will veto any attempt to impose U.N. sanctions.
Reuters resports that a Chinese state-owned energy firm plans to invest at least $2.48 billion over the next five years in biomass, garbage treatment and other alternative energy projects.
China Energy Conservation Investment Corp. made the plans to take advantage of a new law promoting renewable energy, which sets tariffs in favor of non-fossil energy such as wind, water and solar power and is due to take effect in January.
"We see tremendous business opportunities from the new law," the China Daily quoted Wang Yi, a senior company official, as saying. Coal provides some 70 percent of electricity in China, the world's second-largest energy consumer and producer of greenhouse gases. The state-owned company has started building two wind farms and a new facility that would harness steam generated from garbage and sewage treatment to produce power, the newspaper said.
The firm had budgeted about $1.1 billion to build the garbage-powered plant underway in eastern China and 10 others like it in other parts of the country over the next five years, Wang said.
Another $1.1 billion would go toward constructing up to 30 biomass energy projects in major agricultural provinces, which use organic or woody material such as straw to make fuel or generate power.
China has set a goal of getting 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, though it has acknowledged that coal will remain its primary source of electricity for decades to come.
Within the overall context China's $2.48 billion investment in alternative energy seems insignificant. China is spending huge sums expanding dirty coal fired electricity production. These new plants are not "clean" coal plants and are certainly not carbon neutral (at least not before 2020). Huge amounts of energy is being wasted in China and this looks set to continue. China has some of the world's worst industrial pollution. It doesn't have to be this way. There is an opportunity for international development and cooperation to help China and the rest of the world avoid some of the worst negative consequences of rapid industrialisation. It won't be cheap and it won't be easy.
Or we can seek to deny the Chinese the energy rich lifestyle that many in the west believe is their birthright.
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