The China complex

By Robert Hickson 30/09/2013 2

Last week I flagged that China’s energy system  may be going greener. Not so fast. A report in the Washington Post, picking up on an article by Yang & Jackson in Nature Climate Change [Pdf], points out that the Chinese government is also considering building  9 coal-fed synthetic natural gas plants. According to Yang & Johnson these plants could produce, over the next 40 years, 21 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This compares with 7 billion tonnes from conventional natural gas over the same period. China is thinking about going up to 40 synthetic natural gas plants, which could generate about 110 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

They could, though, use fracking to get better access to their natural gas fields. Lower emissions, but potentially greater environmental damage.

Meanwhile, The Economist notes that China’s also on a hydro dam building spree. But many of the dams contribute little to energy generation while also destroying good agricultural land (and presumably natural habitats).

A long way from “green” then.

However, China’s reportedly earmarked nearly US$300 billion for renewable energy projects between 2011 and 2015.  So, they’re not just greenwashing.

These energy investments will, of course, depend on the health of the economy. Observers have been warning of economic bubbles, and their imminent bursting, in China for several years. The Washington Post reviewed possible scenarios in June. They thought the most likely scenario was one where the Chinese economy deflates but doesn’t burst, which would be a good outcome for the global economy (if it prevents another financial catastrophe).

Neville Bennett, speaking on Radio New Zealand National’s Nights programme on Monday,  just back from the Middle Kingdom was more concerned about the Chinese economy, and reminded listener’s not to put all their eggs (green or otherwise) in the China basket.

2 Responses to “The China complex”

  • From what I understand it is uncertain at this point whether natural gas from fracking really comes out better in the carbon balance than coal. It seems that leaks during production may release enough methane to negate the better energy yield per carbon of natural gas.

    • There is also the issue of water use in franking, which I noted in last week’s post on energy trends.