Could it be that the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas is the same country that spends more on green technology than any other country?
It says everything about China, that a nation of 1.35 billion people which is enjoying a rapidly growing economy, chooses to spend unimaginably large sums of money to green-tech it’s industry – even as many competing domestic interests vie for government revenue.
Beijing residents rarely see the sky these days due to constant smog caused by coal-fired power plants, industrial pollution, transportation and the construction sector. Many cities in China are finding themselves completely blanketed by thick, particulate-laden clouds and worryingly for economist's, at a certain point smog begins to affect worker attendance and productivity rates -- which affect the corporate bottom line.
According to CLPmag.org, a non-profit organization working throughout Asia; “It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” That’s every year, folks.
It is a vicious circle. High pollution levels induce worker ailments, which lower productivity, resulting in lower profits, and layoffs, all of which conspire to cause company directors to demand stricter environmental regulations, as they now recognize the costs of environmental inaction are much higher than the cost of environmental action.
China is now the largest producer of solar panels in the world, having surpassed the U.S.A. in late 2011. A smaller percentage of those panels are available for export these days as they are being redirected for domestic use as a way to taper the need for more coal-burning power plants.
However, on account of the staggering demand for electricity due to the rapid growth in China, completion of one coal-fired electrical power generation station per week continues and has been the case since 2008. One must also keep in mind a very significant number; for each ton of coal burned, 2.4 tons of CO2 is created, not to mention tons of particulate, airborne mercury, arsenic, SO2, NOx and carbon monoxide.
Of particular interest to the Chinese government these days is the cost of constructing (for this example) 100 megawatt blocs of electricity generation – enough to power 62,000 homes – using various methods;
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) solar power plants -- which cost around 700 million dollars in 2010, but is steadily dropping in price -- are noted for producing solar power 24 hours per day, storing the heat generated in vast underground pools of molten salt. After manufacture and construction, all emissions are zero. A 100 MW CSP power plant saves the environment 164,000 tons of CO2 per year, and fuel cost for the Sun to power those curved mirrors is zero.
A Photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant, which generally costs around 300 million dollars, although prices are dropping almost monthly. Fuel cost for the Sun to power those solar modules is zero. After manufacture and construction, all emissions are zero. These facilities require very low maintenance. A 100 MW PV power plant also saves the environment 164,000 tons of CO2 per year.
A coal-fired power plant, which currently costs about 250 million dollars, but that price is rising yearly as expensive environmental technology is added to improve air quality. Constant maintenance is a factor with coal-fired power plants.
In the coal power plant scenario, the construction cost is only one factor out of many high costs to be borne by the plant operator and ultimately passed on to citizens.
At the end of 2010, China operated 620 coal-fired power plants burning over 3 billion tons of coal per year. That’s a lot of CO2, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, airborne mercury, other toxins and particulate. Separate from the initial manufacture and construction emissions, normal coal power plant operations added together in China cause CO2 emissions alone of 7.2 billion tons per year. And, except for nitrous oxides (due to a successful Chinese government program to drastically reduce NOx levels), all those numbers will easily double by 2020.
Then there is the fuel equation; In China, coal costs 815 yuan ($125) a ton and it burns over 3 Billion tons per year, to total 375 billion dollars annually. Rail and shipping costs are extra - -which represent a substantial amount of money. Some of China’s coal supply comes all the way from western Canada and the U.S.A.
Significantly, those numbers too, are expected to more than double by 2020. That is a lot of money to spend year in and year out, even for the world’s largest economic performer.
This brings us right back to 410,000 deaths per year in China due to the environmental degradation of the air, water, land and even food. Is it any wonder that China is determined to pursue sustainable solutions to improve it’s environment?
In first-world nations, delivering on the environmental front is seen to be one step up from receiving a Cub Scout badge.
In China, delivering on the environmental front means saving tens of thousands of lives every year along with accumulating health-care savings.
Is it any wonder that the government of China has displayed such a high level of interest in pursuing green energy policy?
China’s government has realized the importance of clean energy to the overall health and survival of many thousands of citizens per year and it's economy. Although late entering the game, China is now making huge strides to properly address it’s environmental challenges.
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