Green en­ergy growth faces grid­lock, strug­gles in China

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY MATTHEW BROWN

BEI­JING | China’s scram­ble to curb pol­lu­tion has won it ac­co­lades as the world leader in re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment, yet in­creas­ing amounts of that green elec­tric­ity are go­ing un­used as the coun­try strug­gles to in­te­grate wind and so­lar power into an out­dated and balka­nized elec­tric­ity net­work dom­i­nated by coal.

The prob­lem threat­ens to slow China’s progress in clear­ing its air and con­trol­ling the green­house gas emis­sions that make it the top con­trib­u­tor to cli­mate change. It also runs counter to a de­sire by Bei­jing’s lead­ers to fill the lead­er­ship gap left by Pres­i­dent Trump’s move last week to with­draw the U.S. from the Paris cli­mate ac­cord.

As in­ter­na­tional en­ergy min­is­ters gather in Bei­jing this week to pro­mote re­new­ables, China’s dif­fi­culty max­i­miz­ing its green re­sources un­der­scores uncer­tainty over how best to tran­si­tion to cleaner elec­tric­ity.

“They in­stalled too much too fast,” said Qiao Lim­ing, China direc­tor for the Global Wind En­ergy Coun­cil. “A real mar­ket should al­low elec­tric­ity to flow be­tween two prov­inces. That is cur­rently lack­ing” in China, she said.

Thou­sands of new wind tur­bines and so­lar pan­els were in­stalled in China’s re­mote prov­inces over the past sev­eral years as the coun­try’s lead­ers sought to al­le­vi­ate chok­ing ur­ban smog with­out slow­ing eco­nomic ex­pan­sion. China now has more re­new­able power ca­pac­ity than any other na­tion.

Two nag­ging prob­lems have damp­ened that suc­cess, how­ever, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and out­side ob­servers: China’s sprawl­ing power grid has been un­able to han­dle the in­flux of new elec­tric­ity from wind and so­lar, while some provin­cial of­fi­cials have re­tained a pref­er­ence for coal.

In western China’s Gansu prov­ince, 43 per­cent of en­ergy from wind went un­used in 2016, a phe­nom­e­non known in the en­ergy in­dus­try as “cur­tail­ment.” In the neigh­bor­ing Xin­jiang re­gion, the cur­tail­ment fig­ure was 38 per­cent and in north­east China’s Jilin prov­ince it was 30 per­cent. The na­tion­wide fig­ure, 17 per­cent, was de­scribed by Ms. Qiao’s or­ga­ni­za­tion as “shock­ingly high” after in­creas­ing for sev­eral years in a row.

The prob­lem has shown some signs of im­prove­ment this year, ac­cord­ing to the China Elec­tric­ity Coun­cil. Power de­mand in gen­eral in­creased in the first quar­ter, giv­ing a boost to re­new­ables after the econ­omy re­gained mo­men­tum from 2016’s slow­down.

How­ever, ex­perts say wasted en­ergy will con­tinue to be a drag on Chi­nese re­new­able power po­ten­tial un­til the coun­try’s elec­tri­cal grid is mod­ern­ized and provin­cial of­fi­cials end their pref­er­ence for coal, which pro­vides al­most two-thirds of the coun­try’s en­ergy.

The prob­lem is worst in win­ter, when many coal plants pro­vide elec­tric­ity for the power grid and send out ex­cess heat to keep homes and busi­nesses warm.

That’s led provin­cial of­fi­cials to keep coal plants run­ning — and to re­ject avail­able wind-gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity — de­spite pres­sure from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to use more re­new­ables, said Lu Xi, a pro­fes­sor at Ts­inghua Univer­sity’s School of En­vi­ron­ment in Bei­jing.

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