Nepal views: Support between SA states and China in wind and solar energy

Bhaskar Koirala

Regional Expert, Nepal

 Infrastructure cooperation between South Asian states and China (and possibly between SAARC itself and China, encompassing other Observers as well) in the (conventional) areas of road and railway construction will in fact facilitate cooperation in other areas such as development of energy infrastructure, particularly alternative energy sources (solar and wind) in view of alarming trends in global climate change, the exponential increases in the cost of energy commodities such as oil and natural gas combined with sharply accelerating demand. More intricate road and railway connectivity between China and South Asia will open up several new supply lines for petroleum products and natural gas, making supply more abundant (especially in previously isolated regions) and thereby addressing sharply rising demand across South Asia and China. But aside from this and much more importantly, greater connectivity in this respect allows for much easier movement of ideas and knowledge and the ability to more conveniently put certain important proposal into practice. At this juncture, the South Asian region and China especially need to think jointly about alternative energy sources as the actions taken collectively by our states will have a decisive impact on climate change. By some accounts, since 2006 China has already surpassed the United States in C02 emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes (cement production) that are known to accelerate climate change (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2007). According to a World Bank study, “global carbon emissions have risen 19 percent since 1 990, more than 25 percent behind goals set forth under the Kyoto Protocol...The rise has been driven by surging emissions from China (73 percent increase) and India (88 percent increase)” (World Bank, 2007). Fortunately-and even in the face of per capita emissions of China and India lagging far behind those of Europe and the United States-there has already been considerable research, development and implementation in both India and China where great initiatives are occurring for harnessing alternative energy sources such as solar energy and wind energy, both of which can very easily be developed and put in place unlike the harnessing of hydro-power, for example, which requires many years to achieve and at the cost of disruption to our already delicate ecology and to settled populations as well.

The phenomenal growth of China and India has been a story of incredibly high demand and utilization of hydrocarbons such as oil and coal, the burning of which of course produces carbon dioxide and other dangerous greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and a host of serious climate change issues. What is particularly alarming are suggestions such as those by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) that by 2030, “global energy consumption will grow by over 70 percent...The strongest growth is expected in developing economies in Asia-including India and China-with growth projected to triple in that region over the next 25 years” (Bodman, 2006). And even more alarming is the following observation: “Most national economies around the world are fundamentally hydro-carbon based. And they will remain so in the near term. Though we estimate that oil’s share of total energy use will fall slightly in the coming decades (from 38 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2030), the demand for oil is still expected to grow strongly...The United States, China and India will account for half of the projected growth in world oil demand” (ibid). The critical question is whether this will be sustainable or not. There is global consensus that, no matter what, countries must aggressively seek alternative sources of energy to avert catastrophic consequences and simply to prepare for a situation in which there is dwindling supply. In terms of China- South Asia relations in infrastructure development, I would point out the cooperation already taking place at the private sector level between India as the largest of the South Asian states and China to address this very serious energy problem within the vital sector of wind energy. Importantly, the generation capacity world-wide from wind sources is expected to increase substantially from 73.9GW at the end of 2006 to around 160GW by 2010 according to the World Wind Energy Association, so this is really a technology that is not only viable but in which there is increasingly considerable amount of global investment. In terms of economic value, the wind energy sector has become one of the most important players in the energy markets, with the total value of new generating equipment installed in 2007 reaching US$36 billion (GWEC, 2007). Against this backdrop, I wish to point out that there is a 22,500 square meter site in the Chinese port city of Tianjin which is the manufacturing base of the Indian company Suzlon. Suzlon has manufactured and sold turbines totaling a 545 MW capacity in just one quarter of 2007 with nine wind farms in China being supplied by the company. Wind power in general is growing at a phenomenal pace: Suzlon has operations in 21 countries ranging from the United States, South Korea, Australia, Denmark, Romania, Ukraine, South Africa to Turkey and so on. Currently Suzlon is in the process of developing Asia’s largest wind park in Dhule, Maharashtra (India) with a projected capacity of 1000MW (Suzlon, 2008A), in addition to just having secured major Chinese orders for wind farms in Inner Mongolia, Jilin, and Heilonhjiang provinces (Suzlon, 2008B). Given this scenario, the governments of China and India would do well to promote and encourage their own private sector players within some kind of a regional (China-SAARC) policy approach whereby a systematic/coordinated development plan can be established that targets a dramatically large-scale deployment of wind-powered technology across South Asia and China both of which also happen to face sharp energy deficits that hamper economic growth (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2006) and stifles overall development.

While energy deficiency in China is worsening, wherein the Chinese state media have reported in 2007 of a nationwide shortfall of 70 gigawatts, “which is equivalent to the entire generating capacity of Britain” (Ho, 2008), the energy requirements of the country are continuing to increase-in fact, China is second only to the United States in energy consumption-and coal-fired power plants provided about 83 percent of China’s electricity output in 2007 (ibid). Apart from the drastic environmental implications of burning coal for electricity, there is also the problem of shortage of coal itself which is leading to black-outs across 13 provinces in China and government concerns about possible increases in the cost of electricity in the face of already rising inflation (ibid). Similarly in the case of India with a population just as enormous as China’s, and really if we look all across the South Asian landscape, there are alarming shortages of electricity: according to the Planning Commission of India, roughly 600 million people, about half of the total population, are off the electricity grid all-together (Sengupta, 2007); only about 40 percent of Nepal’s population has access to electricity and the figure is about 30 percent in Bangladesh (Mills, 2006); and in Pakistan, the country faces a 15 percent shortfall of the capacity it requires primarily due to the country’s booming economy and rising industrialization (al-Hameed, 2008). While solutions involving hydropower, nuclear power, coal or oil and so on are all feasible, each of these is also laden with some complication or another-each presents some specific trade-off that is not easy to absorb or sustain over the long-run.

And that is where on alternative energy source such as solar power (which is fairly easy to operationalize) is so attractive across a vast land mass encompassing China and South Asia with our gargantuan populations and where radiated heat and light are so abundant. China, incidentally, has become the world’s largest consumer of solar energy, with statistics showing that China currently tops the world in production and retention of solar energy (China Daily, 2007).

For instance, solar PV capacity in China “has jumped from 350 megawatts (MW) in 2005 to over 1,000 MW in 2006, with 1,500 MW expected in 2007” (People & the Planet, 2007). A single Chinese company based in Wuxi visited by this author recently was instrumental in the following: PV system for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bird’s Nest Stadium (130 kW), grid-connected solar farm in Colorado, USA which is the largest on-grid solar power plant project in that country (12MW), San Francisco Airport Terminal 3 (450kW), on grid Solar Park for Elecnor and Atersa in Spain which is currently the largest on-grid solar power plant project in the world (24MW). On the other hand, the application of solar technology for generating energy is comparatively less prominent in South Asia. While in the largest state of South Asia, India, solar energy produced is merely 0.5 percent compared to other energy resources, and while government-funded solar energy in India accounted for only about 6.4 megawatt-years of power as of 2005 (Roul, 2007), interestingly a new Solar Energy Commission with equal participation from the private sector has just recently been proposed by the Central Government. This Commission will “establish a solar research facility to coordinate research and development activities being carried out in the public and private sectors” (Dhar, 2008). In this regard, India can learn a great deal from China, and perhaps even partner with China in an effort to rapidly expand the application of solar technology in India itself and others areas of South Asia to address the energy deficit.

Noteworthy is that since 2004/2005, China has been training approximately 10,000 technicians from Africa and other developing countries in the use of solar energy technologies (Hepeng, 2004). This is all being done using “funding from the [Chinese central and provincial governments [whereby] the Institute of Natural Energy-part of the Gansu Provincial Academy of Sciences-has established an eight-hectare training facility powered entirely by solar power.

The facility, which is the largest in Asia, has trained more than 400 people from 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Lain American since 1991” (ibid).

Conclusion:

Various important (inevitable) processes and dynamics of globalization and new technologies are bringing the world much closer together in current times.

China and the South Asian region are contiguous and home to over one third of humanity with so many critical and globally relevant developments occurring across our respective countries, whether we speak of agricultural issues, energy issues, trade and finance, technological matters, natural resources, politics, security and defense, a slew of social transformations, sports, religion, poverty, the middle-class, education and so on and so forth. There is today perhaps much broader understanding and awareness among South Asians and Chinese about one another than ever before yet there is still so much scope for further exchange and cooperation so that we may learn from one another arid think along the lines of common prosperity. Learn from each others’ rich and textured cultural and spiritual traditions and learn about the innovative and distinctive solutions that we have espoused in the contemporary period. There must be a greater amplification in the way we share information and knowledge which are the bases of sound development. Acutely lacking in the South Asian region vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China (and vice-versa) are cross-border infrastructure projects that would facilitate this greater exchange between the diverse peoples of South Asia and China. Quite simply, more extensive road and railway connectivity would serve as great impetus towards mutually beneficial cooperation. As I have tried to argue in this paper, more advanced, sophisticated, and extensive transportation mechanisms will make possible/feasible the adoption of innovative solutions in infrastructure development across all of our countries by addressing the singularly important issue of energy by utilizing wind and solar technologies more pervasively. This would substantially improve our collective development and would be exemplary of international cooperation whereby the most heavily populated areas of the world (China and South Asia) can work jointly to address perhaps one of the most serious challenges of the 21st century, namely climate change.

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