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Day January 5, 2011

Is China investing enough in renewables?

Cash call for green power
By Mitch Moxley

Researchers in China, the world’s leading provider of wind turbines and solar panels, are working toward making renewable energy cheaper, more efficient and a bigger part of the country’s power grid.

But despite China’s rapid leap to being a global leader in the renewable energy field, more government investment is needed for research and development if China is to truly blaze a path toward a clean energy future, researchers say.

Zhao Xingzhong, professor at Wuhan University’s School of Physics and Technology, is researching dye-sensitized solar

 
cells, a low-cost, high-efficiency alternative to more prevalent solid-state semiconductor solar cell technology.

The practical implications are apparent, Zhao said.

“The production process of dye-sensitized solar cells doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, which means it won’t induce environmental pollution,” Zhao told IPS. “And dye-sensitized solar cells cost only one-fifth of traditional semiconductor solar cells made from crystalline silicon.”

Although Zhao’s team’s research is unique at home and abroad, he said support from the Chinese government is far from enough. He notes that Japan and South Korea have jointly invested about US$1.6 billion on research on third-generation solar technology since 2000. In China, however, Zhao said there have been just five native projects in the solar field in the last decade, with spending of around $4.5 million per project.

“It is difficult to break through the technological bottleneck because of the inadequacy of [financial] input,” Zhao said.

In recent years, China has become the global leader in renewable energy technology manufacturing, surpassing the United States in terms of both the number of wind turbines and solar panels it makes. The accounting firm Ernst & Young in September named China the best place to invest in renewable energy.

Chinese companies, led by the Jiangsu-based Suntech, have one-quarter of the world’s solar panel production capacity and are rapidly gaining market share by driving down prices using low-cost, large-scale factories. China’s 2009 stimulus package included subsidies for large solar instillation projects.

In terms of wind power, home-grown companies have rapidly gained market share in recent years after the government raised local partnership requirements for foreign companies to 70% from 40% (the government has since removed local partnership requirements) and introduced major new subsidies and other incentives for Chinese wind power companies.

By 2009, there were 67 Chinese turbine providers and foreign companies’ market share fell to 37% from 70% just over five years ago.

But most of the parts produced by Chinese companies are based on technology developed from abroad, with scant focus on homegrown innovation in the renewable energy field.

Wang Mengjie, deputy director of the China Renewable Energy Society and former vice chairman of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Engineering, works in the biomass industry. He said bioenergy can be used to improve living standards in rural areas, and he is involved in projects aimed at providing farmers will equipment that can turn organic waste into clean biogas and fertilizer.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the number of biogas pools in China’s rural areas reached over 35 million as of the end of 2009, producing 12.4 billion cubic meters each year. The government has increased financing of biogas pools in recent years, to 5 billion yuan (US$755 million) in 2009 from an average of 2.5 billion yuan in 2006 and 2007.

Despite the investment, Wang said China still faces technological hurdles in the biomass industry.

“In terms of biodiesel technology, Western countries like the United States and Germany lead the world, while China is still at its infancy stage,” Wang said. “China has no definite regulations or policies on biomass energy right now. Under the present circumstances, there’s no possibility for relevant enterprises to develop further.”

Critics say China’s interest in renewable energy is essentially a business opportunity – most of what it produces is sold abroad – and that it is less interested in applying the more expensive technology at home.

China has not yet caught up to the United States in terms of renewable energy production. The country is the biggest consumer of coal in the world and is expected to burn 4.5 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2020, according to figures from the National Energy Administration.

While coal will still make up two-thirds of China’s energy capacity in 2020, the government has promised to invest billions of dollars into the development of wind, solar and nuclear power. The country’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, now requires power grid companies to buy 100% of the electricity produced from renewable energy generators.

Official statistics released last April said that low-carbon energy sources would account

for more than a quarter of China’s electricity supply by the end of 2010, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The figures revealed that hydro, nuclear and wind power were expected to provide 250 gigawatts of capacity by the end of 2010, while coal will account for 700 gigawatts.

(Inter Press Service)

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Dalai Lama wants to go green

An excerpt of an Asia Times piece on the shift in the politics over Tibet.

 

Dalai Lama wants to go green
By Saransh Sehgal

DHARAMSALA, India – United States secret diplomatic documents disclosed by WikiLeaks have shown that the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile, wants to shift the focus of the Free Tibet movement from Tibet’s political future onto climate change in the Himalayan region.

Frustrated by the stagnation of five decades of political wrestling with Beijing over Tibet’s future, analysts say, the Dalai Lama now hopes that pressing Beijing over climate change in Tibet will attract more attention and support inside and outside of China.

Near the end of 2010, WikiLeaks released a series of

 

Washington’s diplomatic secrets related to the Dalai Lama, Tibet and India. The most controversial revealed that the Dalai Lama told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the political agenda should be sidelined in favor of climate issues.

The political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau. Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that ‘cannot wait’, but the Tibetans could wait five to 10 years for a political solution,” the leaked memo quoted the 75-year-old Nobel peace laureate as telling ambassador Roemer during a 2009 meeting between the two, according to the cable obtained by WikiLeaks and released by British newspaper the Guardian.

The Dalai Lama also hoped for Washington’s support for his new approach. “The Dalai Lama requested the United States consider engaging China on environmental issues in Tibet,” the leaked US memo said, and Roemer speculated that “the Dalai Lama’s message may signal a broader shift in strategy to reframe the Tibet issue as an environmental concern”.

Interestingly, this tactical change was revealed at a time when many in the exiled Tibetan community are becoming impatient with their god-king’s “middle way” approach and are eagerly awaiting the election of a new exiled leadership in March 2011. The Dalai Lama himself has pledged to give up his political role after the election.
The Dalai Lama’s new tactic has become a hot subject among Tibetans in exile. Many hope this will attract more attention and bring more support not only from their compatriots inside Tibet, but also from foreign countries and environmental organizations. Many exiled Tibetans here also think it is a very wise move by the Dalai Lama. For, while he is unlikely to see a political settlement on the Tibet issue in his lifetime, he could keep the world’s focus on Tibet by highlighting the climate issue.

The Tibetan region, the world’s largest and highest plateau, is well known among environmental activists as the Earth’s “third pole”. It contains the biggest ice fields outside the Arctic or Antarctic, and its glacial melt has direct consequences even outside of the region. No other area in the world has a water repository of such size as in Tibet, where it serves as a lifeline for much of the continent and millions of people in countries downstream.

In its efforts to integrate the Tibetan region under its full control, the Chinese government has fully utilized the Himalayan plateau for its industrial potential. Extensive mineral exploitation, hydropower projects and the mining of uranium – of which Tibet contains the world’s largest known reserves – have been going on unchecked, leaving the region irreparably marred.

2011 story: $1 trillion student debt in US

US student debt is $1 Trillion. This horrendous figure is greater even than credit card debt.
The 3 main political parties all agree that students should plunge into this form of debt spiral. Even New Labour were ready to follow ex-BP Chairman Browne;s commerical ideas….
Have a look at the medieval distribution of wealth in America and you see where we are going in England.
I hope the student movement develops its campaign by demanding we end this mindless import of American neo-liberal economics.
Perhaps this will happen anyway if the US student debt problem explodes over the next year or so.