Beijing 2022 can be springboard to greener future
The moment former International Olympic Committee chief Juan Antonio Samaranch announced Beijing had won the 2008 Olympic Games is etched onmy mind.
Thousands of jubilant people took to the streets. There were hugs between cheering strangers. Drivers honked their horns wildly. It was a carnival atmosphere.
When again the capital was announced as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, I had hoped for the same, but this time the celebrations seemed a lot more sober.
I had actually had a sense of this when candidate cities such as Oslo in Norway earlier withdrewtheir bids, doubting the logic of hosting such an expensive mega-sports event.
Holding Olympic Games has become a huge challenge for bidding cities, not only in terms of the initial costs involved, but also because of the expected bill of maintaining the venues and stadiums after the competition is over.
For China’s two co-host cities, Beijing and Zhangjiakou, probably add in the price of making artificial or man-made snow from already precious water resources, and the likely expenditure starts to spiral.
But looking at the bigger picture, the 2022 games are expected to provide huge economic momentum to a wider Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region of 110 million people.
I view the event, particularly, as providing the perfect opportunity to fundamentally change China’s energy mix, by initiating a new mechanism for promoting renewable energy and power industry reform.
More than 90 percent of electricity consumption in the region was generated from fossil fuels last year, so simply shutting down coal-fired plants in and around Beijing, will not be an option as a third of its pollution is actually imported from neighboring regions.
Plans announced by Zhangjiakou last week to boost the share of renewables in its total energy mix to 55 percent by 2020 are as welcome as they are ambitious. Germany, a world’s leader in green energy, for instance, aims to increase its renewable energy generation to 40 percent to 45 percent of total electricity production by 2025.
To reach its goal, officials in Zhangjiakou have pledged initiatives such as accelerating power pricing reforms, encouraging private companies to invest in the construction of “smart grids” and more energy storage facilities, and promoting a trans-regional powertrading mechanism.
If it manages to put such plans in place, Zhangjiakou could become a global model for renewable-energy utilization.
Although the share of electricity generated from renewable sources continues to grow in China, the effective use of wind and solar power continues to be a challenge.
In the first six months of this year, more than 15 percent of the electricity generated from wind power in China had restrictions placed on it, a 6.8 percent rise on the previous year.
Similarly, about 1.8 billion kilowatt-hour electricity generated from solar power had the same, mainly in northwest China, according to the energy regulator.
The main reasons for the curtailments were a lack of transmission capacity, with the power grids still giving priority to coal-powered plants.
Given such circumstances, quicker industry reform is needed to promote both trans-regional cooperation, and larger amounts of electricity generated from wind and solar must be bought by the power grid companies.
Zhangjiakou officials plan to transmit any excess clean energy from the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region to energy-guzzling central regions of China.
They have also pledged that all its public transportation, roughly 40 percent of urban power consumption, and half of all commercial and public-building power consumption will be generated from renewable sources by 2020.
Some skeptics still fear that vehicles powered by electricity generated from coal-fired power stations will still result in more emissions than conventional cars powered by petrol.
But Zhangjiakou’s idea of embedding cleaner vehicles into the fabric of China’s future energy development must surely be a model for other cities across the country.
By winning the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, China’s efforts at cleaning up its skies for good will take center stage, and act as a springboard for its renewable energy industry. Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org