Originally posted in South China Morning Post on 21 November 2021
How China’s clean energy push could help the developing world give up fossil fuels
- As a leader on renewable energy technologies, China should help belt-and-road and other developing nations achieve carbon goals, senior policymaker says
- Countries like Bangladesh could gain from the green expertise of China, Germany, Britain and the US, researcher in Dhaka points out
China could offer developing countries pathways to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, a senior environmental policymaker has said.
Li Junfeng, founding director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC), said China should not only think about its own energy transition but also work with developing countries on their carbon neutrality goals.
Many breakthrough energy technologies of the past five decades, in nuclear and solar power, for instance, had been commercialised in China, Li told an environmental conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
“So we can set up programmes, together with developed countries, to help their energy transition, including countries in the Belt and Road Initiative and South-South cooperation programme,” he said.
Li is senior adviser to the NCSC, a national institute affiliated with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
As an expert on environmental and energy policies, Li helped draft China’s national climate change action plan and its renewable energy law, and has been a lead author of the country’s UN climate assessment reports.
While China is the world’s No 1 producer of greenhouse gases, it is also a leader in renewable energy development.
Nearly 80 per cent of the world’s solar panels are made in China. Between 2008 and 2013, China’s fledgling solar-electric panel industry helped global costs of the energy to drop by 80 per cent, according to Scientific American.
China also built more new wind farm capacity in 2020 than the world combined the year before, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report earlier this year. A separate report said the country would account for almost half of the world’s cumulative onshore wind capacity by 2030, up from about 40 per cent this year.
“About half the wind power products in developed countries are made in China, not by Chinese companies but by Chinese factories of multinational conglomerates,” Li said. “They were made in China and then sold abroad.”
As for nuclear energy, China is currently the only country capable of mass-producing third-generation reactors. A few of these are already in operation in the country, including the Hualong One. The reactor, at the Fuqing nuclear power plant in southeastern Fujian province, began commercial operations in January.
At the Shidaowan nuclear power plant in eastern Shandong province, the world’s first two high-temperature gas-cooled reactors reached normal operating conditions earlier this month and are expected to connect to the power grid by the end of the year.
“Energy transition around the world has the same goal, which is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The transition is not just about cutting coal consumption but also reducing oil and gas consumption,” Li said.
“If countries were to achieve carbon neutrality around mid-century, their pathways should be basically the same – to include a high percentage of non-fossil fuels in their energy mix. The technologies are highly consistent, so we should pay attention to experience sharing and international collaboration.”
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, a research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said that since countries like China, Germany, Britain and the United States were leaders in renewable energy production, they could help support developing nations in adopting renewables in the transition.
“Renewables are a principle option for energy security for the people at this moment,” he said.
Wind and solar energies account for just 3 per cent of electricity production in Bangladesh, far below its target of raising the share of renewables in the energy mix to 10 per cent by the year-end.
“China is a major investor in Bangladesh and a major contributor to its development. We expect China has the ability to offer a long-term package solution for clean energy for Bangladesh, and that will include not only power generation, but also renewable-energy-based transmission and distribution,” Moazzem said.
“We also understand that, at least for some period of time, energy security would be based on fossil fuels. But we are actually expecting … [countries] supporting Bangladesh to move towards clean energy.”