Monday, August 4, 2008

China and Renewable Energy

In today's daily brief from the China Economic Review,

China leads world in installed renewable
4 August 2008
China now leads the world in installed renewable energy, the
Christian Science Monitor reported, citing a report by the London-based nonprofit organization the Climate Group. China has now reached 152 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity. This compares to around 101GW of capacity in the US in 2006, according to data from the US Department of Energy. China also plans to double its renewable energy output to 15% by 2020. The country has the world's
largest hydroelectric capacity and the fifth-largest wind-power capacity. China is also a major exporter of renewable-energy technologies. Output of solar-voltaic
technology has doubled for each of the past four years and China will be
the world’s largest exporter of wind turbines by 2009.
I'll confess now to a conservative view on things. In fact, I was so pleased with President George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican Convention that I hung a copy on my office wall. I especially remember the line,

"This administration had its moment. They had their chance. They have not led. We will."

I don't want to enter into a general debate on the accomplishments and failures of Presidential administrations, but I think it's pretty clear to all that on the issue of energy -- foreign energy reliance, renewable energy, energy research -- that the US has failed to lead.

China's leadership has acted with foresight and commitment to build a renewable energy infrastructure. The progress is nothing short of amazing, and the world should take note.

Of course, it also helps when you don't have to listen so much to local opinion. (Try building the Glen Canyon Dam today. The majority of Chinese renewable energy is hydro.) There is a considerable amount of "not in my backyard" syndrome going on in the US. I have to agree with much of it --not sure I want a nuclear reactor in my backyard, and I'm an engineer, for the most part capable of understanding the technology and its impressive safety record. A great example is the attempt to put a wind farm on Cape Cod, and the strong resistance by so-called environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.

I served for three years on a local Zoning Board of Adjustment. I can say from experience that any new project involving change in land use, "character of the area," or scenic vista is met with strong opposition. Certainly energy projects (and the ever problematic cell-phone towers) cause changes in all three.

I don't know what the answer is. Certainly, the Federal Government needs to take a strong role in promoting alternative fuels. I think the most effective way is through basic science research, in a way that allows the developing companies/agencies to commercialize the technology and realize the economic benefit. It's also important that local governments (strategic planning groups and zoning boards) recognize the importance of renewable energy and work with various other community groups to develop local policy that encourages the development of renewable energy.

Have any of you worked with local governments on zoning policy or other that encourages renewable energy development? Where?

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