Archive | Hydroelectric

The Fluid Envelope: A Case Against Climate Alarmism

Industrial Smokestacks and Smog
It’s easy to imagine such an impressive
output of gas could be harming the earth.
(Photo: US

Editor’s Note: Our charter to report on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems seems to always bring us back to one overriding distraction – global warming alarm – and small wonder. We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations of political economy in the history of the world – and nobody is watching. “The debate is over on global warming,” goes the consensus, and even if that were a healthy or accurate notion, why has this consensus translated into hardly any vigorous debate over what would be a rational response?

Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary from virtually every environmental nonprofit in existance, the United States has been an extraordinarily responsible nation. We listened to our environmental movement; we institutionalized it. On every front there has been huge progress over the past 30-40 years. Our air and water are orders of magnitude cleaner even though our population has doubled. Our landfills our ultra-safe. We have set aside vast tracts of wilderness, rescued countless endangered species. Our food supply is scrupulously monitored. And every year our technology and our prosperity delivers new options to eliminate more pollution and live healthier lives. So what happened?

In the rest of the world there is also reason for great optimism, despite some discouraging challenges that continue to grip humanity. Human population is voluntarily leveling off, so that within 25-30 years the number of people on planet earth will peak at around 8.5 billion – and every time the projection is revisited, that estimate drops. At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing – and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

Technology promises abundant energy within a few decades, using clean fossil fuel as we systematically replace it with solar, nuclear, run-of-river hydroelectric, enhanced geothermal, wind, possibly biofuel. Technology promises abundant water within a few decades, as we learn how to recycle every drop of water used in the urban environment, convert many crops to drip irrigation, and develop massive desalination capacity. So why don’t we get to work?

The reason is because of global warming alarm. The bells of warning are ringing so loud that CO2 is all that matters anymore. Want to stop using petroleum? Then burn the rainforests for biofuel. Want to stop using coal? Then forget about installing affordable scrubbers to remove the soot that billows from coal fired power plants across burgeoning Asia – why clean up something that needs to be shut down? Want to save allegedly scarce open space? Then cram everyone into ultra-high density “infill” and destroy every semi rural neighborhood in the western world. Make housing unaffordable, then mandate taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing. And do it all in the name of reducing CO2 emissions.

Today, after reading two documents from the website of the Attorney General of California, “Mitigation Measures,” and “Global Warming Contrarians and the Falsehoods they Promote,” I became so alarmed at what we are willingly, blindly bringing upon ourselves because of all this CO2 alarm that I contacted Dr. Richard Lindzen, who has already contributed two lengthy articles to EcoWorld, “Current Behavior of Global Mean Surface Temperature,” and “Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?” I asked Dr. Lindzen if he still held the views he does. He replied emphatically in the affirmative, and sent me the article that follows. Dr. Lindzen, along with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., with whom EcoWorld recently published the exclusive “Interview with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.,” are both internationally respected atmospheric scientists. And both of them, in somewhat different ways, are quite concerned about the overemphasis on CO2.

Anyone who is championing extreme measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 should attempt for themselves to understand the science. As Dr. Lindzen wrote me earlier today, policymakers such as Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger “can be excused given the degree to which the environmental movement has taken over the professional societies.”

“Science” has become the trump card that drowns out reason – what great irony. And the scientific establishment itself has become politicized. And if you read the mitigation measures being proposed, just imagine if there was nothing we could do to affect global warming – which even some of the lead authors of the IPCC studies themselves acknowlege – and see if you want to live in the brave new world we are leading ourselves into by our own gullible noses.

Dramatic and positive global economic and technological developments, along with voluntary and irreversible global demographic trends, are about to deliver us a future where we enjoy unprecedented environmental health, abundance and prosperity. But to do this we need to preserve our economic and personal freedoms. Will the measures being proposed – especially in trendsetting California – fruitlessly combat a problem that doesn’t exist, crush economic growth and trample on individual freedom, and rob humanity of this hopeful destiny?

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Fluid Envelope – A Case Against Climate Alarmism
by Dr. Richard Lindzen, February 2008
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger Portrait with California Flag
What will be his legacy?

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations.

Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the Goebbelian substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well.

Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and previous warm periods appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. During the latter, alpine glaciers advanced to the chagrin of overrun villages.

Since the beginning of the 19th Century these glaciers have been retreating. Frankly, we don’t fully understand either the advance or the retreat. For small changes in climate associated with tenths of a degree, there is no need for any external cause. The earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The motions of the massive oceans where heat is moved between deep layers and the surface provides variability on time scales from years to centuries. Recent work (Tsonis et al, 2007), suggests that this variability is enough to account for all climate change since the 19th Century. Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface.

Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect, and, quite possibly, not all of even this really small warming is due to man. This further implies that all models predicting significant warming are greatly overestimating warming. This should not be surprising. According to the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86 % of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far, even if all the warming we have seen so far were due to man.

This contradiction is rendered more acute by the fact that there has been no significant global warming for the last ten years. Modelers defend this situation by arguing that aerosols have cancelled much of the warming, and that models adequately account for natural unforced internal variability. However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool, while scientists at the UKs Hadley Centre for Climate Research recently noted that their model did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability thus demolishing the basis for the IPCCs iconic attribution. Interestingly (though not unexpectedly), the British paper did not stress this. Rather, they speculated that natural internal variability might step aside in 2009, allowing warming to resume. Resume? Thus, the fact that warming has ceased for the past decade is acknowledged.

Santa Cruz Mountains and Redwood Forests
Whether or not someone is a climate alarmist should have no
bearing on the strength or purity of their environmentalist convictions.
(Read “Global Warming Questions”)

Given that the evidence (and I have noted only a few of many pieces of evidence) strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming has been greatly exaggerated, the basis for alarm due to such warming is similarly diminished.

However, the really important point is that the case for alarm would still be weak even if anthropogenic global warming were significant. Polar bears, arctic summer sea ice, regional droughts and floods, coral bleaching, hurricanes, alpine glaciers, malaria, etc. etc. all depend not on some global average of surface temperature, but on a huge number of regional variables including temperature, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, and direction and magnitude of wind.

The state of the ocean is also often crucial. Our ability to forecast any of these over periods beyond a few days is minimal. Yet, each catastrophic forecast depends on each of these being in a specific range. The odds of any specific catastrophe actually occurring is almost zero. This was equally true for earlier forecasts: famine for the 1980′s, global cooling in the 1970′s, Y2K and many others. Regionally, year to year fluctuations in temperature are over four times larger than fluctuations in the global mean. Much of this variation has to be independent of the global mean; otherwise the global mean would vary much more.

This is simply to note that factors other than global warming are more important to any specific situation. This is not to say that disasters will not occur; they always have occurred and this will not change in the future. Fighting global warming with symbolic gestures will certainly not change this. However, history tells us that greater wealth and development can profoundly increase our resilience.

Given the above, one may reasonably ask why there is the current alarm, and, in particular, why the astounding upsurge in alarmism of the past 2 years. When an issue like global warming is around for over twenty years, numerous agendas are developed to exploit the issue.

California Attorney General
Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown Portrait
What is his dream?

The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power and influence are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true.

After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for saving the world. Nations have seen how to exploit this issue in order to gain competitive advantages. But, by now, things have gone much further.

The case of ENRON is illustrative in this respect. Before disintegrating in a pyrotechnic display of unscrupulous manipulation, ENRON had been one of the most intense lobbyists for Kyoto. It had hoped to become a trading firm dealing in carbon emission rights. This was no small hope. These rights are likely to amount to over a trillion dollars, and the commissions will run into many billions. Hedge funds are actively examining the possibilities. It is probably no accident that Gore, himself, is associated with such activities . The sale of indulgences is already in full swing with organizations selling offsets to ones carbon footprint while sometimes acknowledging that the offsets are irrelevant.

The possibilities for corruption are immense. Archer Daniels Midland (Americas largest agribusiness) has successfully lobbied for ethanol requirements for gasoline, and the resulting demand for ethanol is already leading to large increases in corn prices and associated hardship in the developing world (not to mention poorer car performance).

And finally, there are the numerous well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue For them, their psychic welfare is at stake.

With all this at stake, one can readily suspect that there might be a sense of urgency provoked by the possibility that warming may have ceased. For those committed to the more venal agendas, the need to act soon, before the public appreciates the situation, is real indeed.

Richard Lindzen Portrait

About the Author: Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Coal, Energy, Geothermal, Global Warming & Climate Change, History, Hydroelectric, Landfills, Nuclear, Organizations, Other, Ozone, People, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind11 Comments

Life in the Electric Age

Innovative business models and innovative technology are both necessary to usher in the electric age. Imagine the gigawatt-hours we’ll need just to power the commuter miles for millions of new electric cars. But along with new sources of electricity, we can increase the supply of electricity from existing sources by retrofitting our grid to the lighter and far more energy efficient touch of new “HVDC light” electricity transmission cables! This technology allows 1.0+ gigawatt transmission cables to be buried underground, without magnetic fields. These super efficient cables – that only lose about 1% of energy for every four-hundred kilometers – are far less costly than the current grid that uses – in general – 0.5 gigawatt AC transmission lines that require elevation via expensive transmission towers, with on average 30% energy loss on transmission.

Wind farms proposed for Northern Vancouver.
(Image: Sea Breeze Power Inc.)

Sea Breeze Power Corp. is involved in joint ventures and directly in projects that are critical to entering the electric age. These include projects such as the Juan de Fuca cable – a 0.5 gigawatt DC cable transmitting electricity from Southern Vancouver to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and the West Coast Cable, a 650 mile long, 1.6 gigawatt DC cable to lay on the seabed from the Colombia River to the San Francisco Bay.

Sea Breeze is also involved in wind power proposals, hoping to utilize the stable winds that batter the treeless highlands of northern Vancouver island. Initially 100 megawatts of capacity are proposed on about a dozen sites in northern Vancouver (see map). Sea Breeze is also participating in projects to develop “run of river” green hydroelectric turbines in southern British Colombia – ranging from 10 to 25 megawatts in output per station.

Even in northern Vancouver Island, where reliable winds from the ocean blow year-round, there is still significant daily and seasonal variation of harvestable wind power. British Colombia has an even more profound seasonal variation in the potential for run-of-river hydro-electric power, where a 24 hour capacity occurs during spring snow melt, and zero capacity ensues during late summer. But also in British Colombia there is huge existing capacity power from hydroelectric plants that utilize multi-year water storage, making load balancing easy. Whenever wind or seasonal hydroelectric power is abundant, the deep reservoir-fed hydroelectric stations can shut down another turbine. As the President of Sea Breeze, Paul Manson put it, “the size and depth of our reservoirs allows us multi-year load balancing.”

Sea Breeze Power Company is in the right place at the right time – their region has deep reservoir hydro-electric capacity, which means they can load-balance significant new sources of sporadic power – such as wind and run-of-river hydro which British Colombia has in abundance. At $.10 per kilowatt-hour, operating continuously, a 1.5 gigawatt high-voltage direct current cable from Vancouver to California would deliver 11.8 billion kilowatt-hours per year – at $.10 per kilowatt-hour that is about 1.2 billion dollars per year.

Industry costs for wind farms are about $2.5 to 3.0 million per megawatt output – for run-of-river hydroelectric it is about 3.0 to 4.0 million. A lot of this cost is for the permits, especially with the greener “run-of-river” hydroelectric plants, where surplus water is diverted into a collection pond and a pipe feeding a turbine generator. These 10-25 megawatt turbines are a significant source of electricity in British Colombia.

Having the ability to stop the turbines on the major reservoirs is British Colombia’s greatest asset as an energy exporter. ‘When you can load balance intermittant wind and runoff dependent power sources with literally gigawatt-years of water behind the dam, you don’t need new storage – you have storage. All in all, however, the biggest story here is Sea Breeze’s proposals to install high-voltage direct current (HVDC) using the latest technologies to allow Vancouver to more cost-effectively increase electricity exports. Today’s next generation “HVDC light” technology – underground high-voltage cables that have no magnetic field, deliver twice the throughput, and have far less transmission losses – represents a fundamental retrofit of our electric power grid that should be tested more.

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Energy, Hydroelectric, Science, Space, & Technology, Wind0 Comments

China's Coal

China Coal Mine
Jin Hua Gong Mine, Datong, Shanxi, China
(Photo: Peter Van den Bossche)

Editor’s Note: The Chinese rely on coal for about two-thirds of their total energy production. And with relatively abundant reserves of coal, and relatively scarce reserves of other fossil fuels, as China increases energy production, coal will remain their main source of energy. This is the reality of energy development in China.

According to the US DOE’s Energy Information Administration, over the next 20 years or so, the amount of energy produced in China from coal is going to double, from about 50 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”) of energy in 2007 to 95 quads by 2030. It is a certainty that China can achieve this level of coal production – what is uncertain is what ultimate level of overall energy production will guarantee the Chinese the lifestyle enjoyed by fully industrialized nations, and hence how much more energy they will have to find elsewhere.

The answer lies in two unpredictable trends – technological advancements in clean, renewable energy production, and improvements in energy efficiency, or “energy intensity,” which is how many units of energy correspond to a unit of gross national product. There is reason for optimism on both counts. Non-hydroelectric renewable energy currently amounts to less than 1% of global energy production, yet advancements in photovoltaic technology, solar thermal technology, possible breakthroughs in biofuel yields and extraction methods, and enhanced geothermal technologies all promise exponential growth over the next two decades.

As China completes their process of industrializing and urbanizing, they also have the opportunity to implement cradle-to-cradle, highly advanced technologies that leapfrog the legacy technologies in-place elsewhere. It is often easier to start from scratch than to retrofit, and China can make the most of this and achieve unprecedented levels of energy efficiency and energy intensity.

Meanwhile coal production in China increases at an astonishing pace, and most of the operating coal plants in China lack modern scrubbers to remove gross air pollution. In this regard, concerns over CO2 may be misplaced. It could be that black soot that settles on arctic ice is warming the northern polar regions more than the CO2 that accompanies that soot. And the ill-health attendant to that soot is beyond debate. The costs to remove genuine pollution, nitrogen dioxide, sulpher dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and toxic metals – is far, far less costly than attempting to sequester the CO2 emissions. And the technology to do this is well established.

It is going to take decades for clean renewables to replace coal. In the meantime, the international community should encourage the Chinese to at least clean up their coal emissions. Getting rid of the particulates and other pollutants would improve the health of hundreds of millions of people, it would prevent black soot from melting northern ice, and unlike schemes for CO2 sequestration – or ending coal burning all together – it is feasible in the short term. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

China’s Coal – The Reality of Energy Development in China
by Gordon Feller, January 2008

2004, 2015, and 2030
Bar Graph of Coal Consumption in China by Sector
Sources: 2004: Energy Information Admin. (EIA),
2015 and 2030: EIA, “System for the Analysis
of Global Energy Markets” (2006).

China is the second largest energy consumer in the world and most of its energy consumption is coal. This dominance of coal is not expected to fall significantly even as China’s energy demand grows.

China’s Development Research Center of the State Council estimates that coal will account for 66 percent of primary energy consumption in 2010. Coal-based power generation will account for 65 to 70 percent of total generation for the next decades. Industry is the other major consumer of coal.

While China’s coal resources are deemed sufficient for its needs in the coming two decades, the environmental cost of coal use is already beginning to take its toll, particularly through SO2 and NOX emissions which are the leading causes of acid rain. In 2002, about 34 percent (or 6.6 million tons) of China’s SO2 emissions were released from power plants. Acid rain falls on an estimated 30 percent of China’s land mass and can become a threat to agricultural output. China’s CO2 emissions, now even surpassing those from the United States, are also a threat to the global environment. A combination of clean-coal technologies at the input, processing and output stages of the power generation process, the enforcement of emission control regulation, and sector policies (such as pricing) have the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of coal use. Significant reductions in environmental impact in the long-term will require a major effort.

The World Bank’s recent analytical work on China’s coal sector found that coal mining is in desperate need of restructuring and modernization. Overall, coal is far behind China’s power and oil/gas sub-sectors in economic efficiency, modern management, and technology. There are more than 30,000 coal mines in the country, most of them small mines producing a third of the country’s coal even after widespread mine closures. The small mines are a major source of the sector’s problems including lack of safety (some two-thirds of the reported 6,000 coal mining fatalities per year occur in small coal mines), environmental damage (small mines are the least equipped to address the environmental impacts of coal – only a small fraction of small mines wash their raw coal), and sub-optimal exploitation or, at worst, waste of resources. At the same time, small-scale mining is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed in the wider context of the economic and social priorities of the town and village governments which most often operate them.

Coal Barge on the Yangtzee River
From mine to market, a fully laden coal barge
floats its way down the Yangtzee River.

China is the second largest producer of electricity in the world and its power demand growth is also among the world’s highest. With rapid economic growth continuing to drive energy demand, China faces supply reliability concerns across the energy sector. These concerns are particularly acute for power and oil. The key priorities and challenges facing China’s energy sector in the medium-term are:

(1) Ensuring Energy Supply Reliability to Meet Demand Growth:

With rapid economic growth continuing to drive energy demand growth, China faces supply reliability concerns across the energy sector. These concerns are particularly acute for power and oil.

(2) Ensuring power supply reliability:

China is the second largest producer of electricity in the world and its power demand growth is also among the world’s highest. By the end of 2000, China’s total installed capacity reached about 320 gigawatts and was expected to grow to about 400GW by 2005, about 500 gigawatts in 2010 and between 850 gigawatts and 950 gigawatts in 2020. But electricity consumption has jumped by much higher rates annually than are implicit in the above 2000-2005 estimate with power shortages first affecting the provinces responsible for the country’s export boom (Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai) along the eastern sea-board. In 2004, 19 out of 31 provinces had to ration electricity. The reliability of the power supply system, particularly, the transmission grid has also become an issue. The government forecasts a power shortage of 10 to 15 percent in the key manufacturing areas estimating that about $108 billion of new generation capacity will be needed in the coming five years to close the gap.

Despite progress in power sector reform, the sector has suffered from systemic problems such as a piecemeal approach to restructuring, slow development of a regulatory framework leading to inefficiencies and abuses of monopoly/monopsony power, mismatch between loan maturities and economic lives of power projects, inadequate wholesale electricity and transmission pricing regimes, and low efficiency of electricity supply and use.

To guide the sector’s evolution, the national government of China released a comprehensive reform program for the power sector in April 2002 whose ultimate objective is to provide customers the best service at the lowest possible cost through continued break-up of the monopolistic industry structure and gradual expansion of competition to improve sector efficiency.

(3) Managing the security of oil supply:

China’s oil consumption accounted for nearly a quarter of primary energy in 2002. With a growing passenger vehicle fleet, greater inland freight transportation, and the high growth rate of industrial output, oil consumption is expected to retain this share of primary energy till 2010 even as China’s total primary energy consumption will more than double between 2000 and 2020. In 1993, China became a net importer of oil. And the proportion of imports in oil consumption has risen from 7.3 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 2000. The government estimates that oil imports will account for 60 percent of total oil consumption by 2020. The government is responding to the vulnerability to oil price volatility and supply risk through a mix of measures including the development of a strategic oil reserve, acquisition of upstream oil assets, and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. The government has sought the World Bank’s advice in developing a coherent and comprehensive policy response to the question of oil supply security under the wider rubric of a policy report on long-term energy security.

(4) Managing the Environmental Impact of Coal:

China is the second largest energy consumer in the world and most of its energy consumption is coal, 67 percent of primary energy consumption in 2002. This dominance of coal is not expected to fall significantly even as China’s energy demand grows. The Development Research Center of the State Council estimates that coal will account for 66 percent of primary energy consumption in 2010. Coal-based power generation will account for 65 to 70 percent of total generation for the next decades. Industry is the other major consumer of coal.

While China’s coal resources are deemed sufficient for its needs in the coming two decades, the environmental cost of coal use is already beginning to take its toll, particularly through SO2 and NOx emissions which are the leading causes of acid rain. In 2002, about 34 percent (or 6.6 million tons) of China’s SO2 emissions were released from power plants. Acid rain falls on an estimated 30 percent of China’s land mass and can become a threat to agricultural output. China’s CO2 emissions, second only to the United States, are also a threat to the global environment. A combination of clean-coal technologies at the input, processing and output stages of the power generation process, the enforcement of emission control regulation, and sector policies (such as pricing) have the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of coal use. Significant reductions in environmental impact in the long-term will require a major effort.

Human Drawn Coal Carts in China
Old and new mingle as human-powered coal carts
deliver energy to fuel China’s industrial boom.
(Photo: USGS)

Overall, coal is far behind China’s power and oil/gas sub-sectors in economic efficiency, modern management, and technology. There are more than 30,000 coal mines in the country, most of them small mines producing a third of the country’s coal even after widespread mine closures. The small mines are a major source of the sector’s problems including lack of safety (some two-thirds of the reported 6,000 coal mining fatalities per year occur in small coal mines), environmental damage (small mines are the least equipped to address the environmental impacts of coal – only a small fraction of small mines wash their raw coal), and sub-optimal exploitation or, at worst, waste of resources. At the same time, small-scale mining is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed in the wider context of the economic and social priorities of the town- and village-level governments which most often operate them.

(5) Reducing Environmental Damage by Increasing the Proportion of Gas and Renewables in the Energy Mix:

China’s gas consumption is low (at 2.7 percent of primary energy in 2002). But gas is beginning to gain momentum and substantial growth is expected with the share of gas in final consumption anticipated to more than double during the next decade.

Renewables accounted for less than 10 percent of China’s primary energy consumption in 2002. With respect to renewable sources of electricity, China is one of the most well-endowed countries in the world estimated to include 160 gigawatts of wind power, over 75 gigawatts of commercially exploitable small hydropower, about 125 gigawatts of biomass energy, 6.7 gigawatts of known geothermal energy and high levels of insulation in many parts of the country. Analyses indicate that the greatest potential for displacing coal by renewable energy is in the power sector. Even so, renewable sources accounted for only 7.8% of primary energy in 2002 with large hydropower plants as the dominant source.

Recognizing this potential, the government seeks to begin use of the resources which are economically feasible. The government has decided to adopt a policy aimed at building demand by mandating electricity suppliers to meet some of their needs from renewable resources, often known as a mandated market policy. The policy is to be implemented through the enactment of a Renewable Energy Promotion Law (REPL) which has been ratified by the People’s Assembly in February, 2005. In addition to the development of the law, regulations need to be introduced. Rather than introduce a law that requires all provinces to comply immediately, the government intends to try out the approach in four provinces (Fujian, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang) which have all volunteered to participate as pilot provinces. These provinces have agreed to adopt the law and to take the actions necessary to comply with it over the period 2005-2008.

(6) Increasing Efficiency of Energy Use Including Heating Services:

The energy consumed to produce every one thousand dollars of GDP (or energy intensity) reduced from 2.49 tons of oil equivalent in 1980 to 0.84 by 2002. The reduction of waste since 1980 has been significant but it means that the easier gains have already been made. In an increasingly market-based economy, government-mandated programs are unlikely to succeed and stronger regulatory oversight will be needed. Despite the progress so far, a greater energy efficiency challenge lies in the future as China currently has a comparatively low per capita energy consumption level (1.1 tce per person in 2001 compared to 6.16 for South Korea, 6.2 for Japan, and 12.04 for the United States). Energy intensity reductions will be heavily influenced by the speed at which China’s major energy-consuming industries move closer to international efficiency standards. Economic growth, rising incomes and the spread of a modern, technology-based way of life – al of these mean that energy efficiency needs to remain a major priority for energy policy.

(7) Efficiency in the heating sector:

Roughly half of China’s population lives in northern regions where temperatures fall below 5oC for over 90 days every year. China currently consumes about 180 million tons of raw coal per year for space heating in urban residential and commercial buildings in its cold and severe cold regions. During winter, emissions from coal-fired central heating facilities are the primary cause of the serious air pollution that is prevalent in northern Chinese cities, and are a major public health concern of the Government. And energy use per unit floor area is at least double that of buildings in similar cold climates in Western Europe or North America, yet far lower levels of comfort are achieved. Due to its major cost advantage, and shortages of alternatives, coal is expected to remain the dominant fuel for central heating systems for the foreseeable future. To address these problems, it is critical to drastically improve the efficiency of coal-fired heating systems in residential buildings.

Satellite Image of Haze from China to Japan
Air pollution from China can easily be seen from
outer space as a plume of smoke thousands of miles long
(Photo: NASA)

China’s urban residential building stock is expected to more than double in the next 20 years. The Government estimates that energy use per unit floor area in new residential buildings can be cut in half, compared with the existing building stock, if compliance with the current energy code is ensured. But China’s construction boom is already overwhelming efforts to enforce the country’s new building energy codes. The housing development industry in general has little incentive to adopt energy-efficient building designs, materials and practices. Similarly, the central heating sector currently provides no incentives for consumers to respond to market-based energy costs. The heating systems are based on Soviet technologies that do not allow consumers to control their heating. Heat metering is non-existent. Billing is based on a flat per square meter price. Chinese leadership has made it clear that urban heating sector reform must proceed.

China’s growth and development has been achieved at the expense of its natural resource base. For example:

- Land degradation is widespread and increasing. China has huge tracts of rapidly degrading grasslands, some of the worst water erosion problems and the highest ratio of actual to potential desertified land in the world.

- Thanks to large investments in tree plantation and shelterbelt development and a natural forest-logging ban, China has successfully turned the tide of formerly rapid deforestation. However, the country’s natural forests had been in a continuous decline for over 50 years and the return of many forest ecosystems to a sustainable condition is still a long way off.

- Despite the establishment of a national system of nature reserves, the stresses on them have put the country’s unique and globally significant biodiversity under serious pressure.

Water availability and quality continues to be a critical problem, particularly in northern China, and the situation is likely to deteriorate over the next decade, especially in the rivers north of the Yangtze. In order to equitably resolve the conflicting claims for water and other natural resources there is a need for both technical progress and improvements in institutional, administrative and regulatory arrangements.

China’s rapid growth is now a driving force in the global economy and is achieving unprecedented rates of poverty reduction. However, growth is also seriously damaging the natural resource base and generating major environmental liabilities. The country’s environmental problems include land degradation, deteriorating water quality and water scarcity, severe air pollution and declining natural forest cover. These problems threaten the health and prospects of current and future generations and are undermining the sustainability of long-term growth.

Gordon Feller Portrait

About the Author: Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute ( During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld..


Additional EcoWorld reports on China:

- Cleaning Up China

- China’s Energy Demand

- China’s Renewable Energy

- Wind Power in China

- China’s Energy Outlook

- Fuel Cell Development in China

- China, Canals & Coal

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Buildings, Causes, Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Other, Policies & Solutions, Science, Space, & Technology, Services, Solar, Transportation, Wind5 Comments

Sikkim's Teesta River

God’s Own Garden in Peril: Hydel Projects threaten Lepcha community in Sikkim
Sikkim River
The beautiful Teesta River of Sikkim

Editor’s Note: Few issues of scaleable energy are harder to parse and assess than hydropower. It is renewable, it is 24 hour, it can be throttled back, the capacity is massive. At capacity China’s Three Gorges complex outputs somewhat over 17.0 gigawatts. India’s entire hydroelectric capacity is about 35 gigawatts. The “hydel” (hydro-electric) dams India plans to build in the Teesta river systems will pour another 5.0 gigawatts into India’s electric power grid. Sikkim will be an energy exporter. And the dams will consume lands and habitats and ecosystems will be drowned.

Who can make the call? The Teesta River system is one of the most beautiful watersheds of wild river left in the world. It is an unspoiled treasure of surpassing beauty. These wild rivers of Sikkim are about to be tamed, fresh water will be harvested and stored, and they will generate hydro-electric energy. What if we had no ice melt? What if we needed to store the water? Building water storage capacity is not necessarily a bad idea – what if storage and hydropower could be implemented off main watercourses? What sort of green dam engineering could be put to work in Sikkim? To simply build a dam, a powerhouse and a reservoir on every river, inundating every valley, every village, eliminating every white water haven – that is not necessarily a good idea.

On the other hand, more electricity and water abundance is worth something. There is no justification for doing anything to harm the earth or the people living on it; not one earthworm is beyond the precious purview of the environmentalist. And that is not a bad idea. So where do we leave the footprint of public utilities, so there are adequate power and water supplies for people? Should no project be began, anywhere? No large scale energy or water development can fail to be at some level to be arbitrary, unfair, heedless, yet to continue to adapt as a civilization we must balance benefits as best we can. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

God’s Own Garden in Peril – Hydel Projects threaten Lepcha community in Sikkim
by Avilash Roul, December 31, 2007
Hydroelectric Damn Protest Sign
“Let Us, Live In Our Homeland,
We Want Freedom From Hydel Project”
Source: Affected Communities of Teesta (ACT)

The ‘God’s Own Garden’ is in peril! The only state in India claim to have green manifesto in its developmental path is going to be seriously dismantled by the state itself.

The Green Protection Index- Sikkim government’s initiative for environment protection- sordidly overlooks the environmental and cultural disruptions due to several hydel power initiatives on the Teesta River and its major tributaries.

The state government’s hydel spree of more than two dozens of projects on the Teesta River basin has been facing severe protest in the tiny Himalayan state. In the true sense of Gandhian non-violence, the indigenous communities of Sikkim are continuing their indefinite hunger strike for more than 165 days against the proposed construction of hydel projects since June 20, 2007. Various community organisation led by Affected Communities of Teesta (ACT), along with the Concerned Lepchas of Sikkim (CLOS) and the Sangha of Dzongu are protesting projects proposed in North Sikkim, particularly in Dzongu, the holy land and exclusive reserve of the Lepcha indigenous community.

Source: Site of Indefinite Hunger Strike,
Affected Communities of Teesta (ACT)

The 30 MW Rathong Chu project in West Sikkim was abandoned as the lamas (Monks) protested against its impacts on the sacred landscape. A senior monk Sonam Paljor Denjongpa of the Chorten Gonpa, Deorali, Gangtok said that some of hydel projects will destroy the heart of the sacred land, Dzongue.

33 year old Dawa Tsering Lepcha who lives in Lingdong Village, in the Dzongu Lepcha Reserve in North Sikkim, and Secretary of ACT, says, “The proposed hydropower projects will have a drastic effect on the social, cultural and religious well-being of Lepchas, not to mention on the fragile environment of Dzongu, our ancestral and present homeland in north Sikkim.” Dzongu has been reserved for the Lepcha community and borders the Kanchenjungha Biosphere Reserve, which hosts a large number of biological curiosity. The Lepchas are one of the three ethnic communities resides in Sikkim. The 40,568 Lepchas as per the 2001 census, who call themselves the Rong-pa, are Sikkim’s earliest inhabitants and popularly classified as hunting-gathering forest-dwelling primitive groups. The culture, customs and traditions of the Lepchas are inextricably linked to the nature. However, now the Lepachas are facing serious threat of their existence. Tenzing Lepcha, 23 years from Heegyathang village which resides 70 Lepcha family in Dzongu province says, “We want development but not on our existence cost.”

Early September, under the pressure from the indigenous communities, the state government has ordered to halt all the five hydel power projects in Dzongu till a review committee submit its report within 100 days. On September 10th, the ACT responded with a Press Statement rejecting the government’s statement and continuing their struggle. Dawa Lepcha says, “The entire process of constituting the Committee, appointing its members, formulating its TOR etc is done without any consultation with ACT.”

Development of Power installations in Sikkim

Sikkim has been declared a 100 percent electrified state in 1995 as per definition of Rural Electrification Corporation of India- a federal government enterprise ( However, the foundation of power was established in 1927 with the commissioning of first hydel project at Lower Sichey Busty on the bank of Ranikhola River near Gangtok with the installed capacity of 50 KW. This was distributed through 3.3KV overhead transmission line to the Royal Family and Gangtok town. Till 1954, this was managed and operated by only two persons.

The Ranikhola hydel station was further augmented in the year 1935 by adding 60KW generating set. In 1957, keeping in view of growing demand for electricity and as a standby measure, a Diesel power house was established and commissioned with a capacity of 257 KW. This was upgraded to 4 MW from the previous capacity in 1998.

Till the end of 1975, the state was having a generation capacity of only 3MW from its small hydel projects (SHP) like Jali Power House, Rimbi Micro Hydel, Rothak Micro Hydel, Manul Micro Hydel Power House and Diesel Power House at Gangtok. The 60 MW Rangit Hydel project in West Sikkim was commissioned in 1999. A 2 MW Kalez Khola hydel project in Dentam in West Sikkim and 3 MW Rabomchu power project in North Sikkim were commissioned in 1995-96 and 1998, respectively.

The state nodal agency for renewable energy has installed 1,000 solar home lighting systems and 5 solar water heating systems. Till 31st March, 2007 a total of 16 Solar Home Lighting Systems, 162 Solar Street Lighting Systems, 720 Solar Lanterns, 15 kWp aggregate capacities of solar photovoltaic plants, 5 solar water heating systems of 156 sq m collector area and 20 solar cookers have been installed in the state.

The 60 MW Rangit Power House
Source: Government of Sikkim

The State government is expected to commission 22 power projects by 2012.

A total of 5148 MW capacity hydel power generation will be added by the end of 11th Five Year Plan. From these projects, the State Power & Energy Department says, the state government will get 12 percent of free power.

At present the total Installed Capacity of the state is 95.70 MW. The per capita consumption of electricity in the state is 182 KWh. However, the government estimates total hydro power potential is 5505 MW. Out of which, a total capacity 5257 MW of 27 projects have been formulated (See Table-1).

The State government’s vision document enshrines the fulfilment of this hydro potential ( Under the Prime Minister’s 50,000 MW initiatives, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) have prepared Preliminary Feasibility Report (PFRs) of 162 schemes which are located in 16 states. Under this scheme, the Sikkim government has been allocated 10 schemes of 1469 MW of installed capacity.

Chart of Hydroelectric Projects on the Sikkim River
The proposed Hydel sites on the rivers in Sikkim; over 5.0 gigawatts of capacity
Source: Department of Power and Energy, Government of Sikkim

Carrying Capacity of Teesta Basin

The State as well as the Federal Government wants to harness the vast hydropower potential of Teesta River as well its tributaries. Out of 104 rivers and streams in the state, the state government has taken up six stage ‘cascade’ plan to harness 3635 MW of hydropower within 175 kms of the Teesta River flows across in Sikkim (See Table -1). The perennial Teesta, fed by the snow and glaciers of Kanchenjungha and great Himalayas, is also an international river flows through the territories of India (Sikkim and West Bengal) and Bangladesh. The proposed and on-going projects are criticised for its various negligence on environmental aspects, forest clearances and public participations. The State environment department had also detected several violations of forest laws by the projects.

Ramamurthy Sreedhar, Earth Scientist and Director of Academy of Mountain Environics ( says, “The projects in Sikkim must be considered in a completely different light, as apart from the ecological implications for which comprehensive carrying capacity studies were to be made, the unique cultural situation and aspirations of the people have to be taken into account”. A study on Carrying Capacity of Teesta Basin in Sikkim has been initiated in the year 2001. The Study is sponsored by National Hydro electric Power Corporation (NHPC) and coordinated by the Centre for Inter-disciplinary Study of Mountain and Hill Environment (CISMHE), Delhi University. The objective of the study was to help in formulating guidelines for overall development of Teesta Basin. Reading through the volumes of the draft Carrying Capacity study of Teesta Basin is scary. However, the findings of the study are yet to be officially put in the public domain.

The study says that the ecology and the geology are so fragile that if any development project is undertaken, proper studies have to be done before that. The study also mentions that tunnelling will be difficult in the types of rocks present in north Sikkim. The Study also predicts more landslides and landslips, which has already increased due to construction of roads.

Souprna Lahiri, senior member of National Federation For Forest People and Forest Worker (NFFPFW) who also works with groups in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh on the issue of hydel projects, says, “One of the conditions for according environmental clearance to Teesta Stage V was that no further clearances will be given to any hydel project till the carrying capacity study of Teesta is carried out. The study is yet to be officially published but at least two projects Teesta State III and Panan has been cleared”.

The international aspect of sharing the Teesta water is yet to be resolved between India and Bangladesh. Despite the Joint River Commissions of Indo-Bangladesg (JRC) reached an agreement in 1983 for two years to utilise the quantum of water, the issue has not been resolved yet. The impeding demand on Teesta water is definitely creating bilateral skirmishes despite institutional mechanism to resolve the problem is available like Joint Committee of Experts (JCE) on sharing of waters of Teesta and a Joint Technical Group (JTG) on sharing of Teesta Waters.

Bangladesh constructed a barrage on the Teesta River in 1990 to provide irrigation water for crop production in the Teesta Barrage Project (TBP) area. India has also constructed a barrage on this river upstream. However, unilateral withdrawal of water in India upstream, limits irrigation water availability in the TBP area. Water sharing with India is crucial in achieving food security and sustainable livelihood in Bangladesh.

Hydroelectric Damn Construction on the Sikkim River
Teesta Phase III
Source: ACT

The Government’s Argument

The Federal Agencies are taking serious notes of the development in Dzongu Province. In early January coming year, a member of Planning Commission may pay a visit to see the ground zero situation in Dzongu province. However, the State government is buying time to restart the projects. In a Public Hearing (mandatory for every project in India) initiated by the Sikkim State Pollution Control Board, in June 2006 in Dzongu, the government agencies cajoled, intimidated and persuaded the communities and people through their introductory notes for the hydel projects before disseminating information regarding the projects.

This process of public hearing has been questioned at large in all over India. During the Public Hearing, the Chairman of the State Pollution Control Board in her speech asked the people to support the hydel projects and should not carried away by the remarks of people who opposed the projects. The local legislature who is also the Health Minister of the present administration said during the Hearings as ‘there is not a single person displaced by this project’. However, Mr Lahiri rues, “In the Public Hearings there was considerable opposition to the project, in case of Panan, 100 per cent said no, in case of Teesta III it was 50 per cent. In the Teesta III PH, those who raised concern and protested against the project were termed as anti-social and anti national by the chairperson of the SPCB.”

The state officials have been arguing for the revenue generation amounting approximately two billion rupees from these projects per annum. The State Department claims that 100 percent of the jobs generated in these power projects are being given to the local people depending upon their qualifications. According to the government, the benefits from these hydel projects would contribute to the national GDP growth, revenues from free power and environment cess, clean power as CDM perspective, employment generation and local area development but, as community believes, at the cost of environment and unique culture.

Hydroelectric Projects in Sikkim
The proposed Hydel sites on the rivers in Sikkim; over 5.0 gigawatts of capacity
Source: Department of Power and Energy, Government of Sikkim


During their last two days protest in New Delhi (December 5-6, 2007), the communities from Dzongu has met various officials, conveyed their grievances, and pledged to carry forward their peaceful protest against the upcoming hydel projects in coming days. The Constitutional provision of cultural rights which are also fundamental rights will be in jeopardy in Dzongu province if the concerns of the Lepcha community are not addressed adequately and immediately.

Avilash Roul Portrait>

About the Author: Avilash Roul, a doctoral fellow on international environmental negotiations, has been writing, advocating, researching, creating knowledge on Environment and Development in various English Daily media since 2000. Earlier, he worked with Down To Earh (fortnightly magazine published in New Delhi, India). He also contributed regularly in Sundays for a column in New India Express on environment and development. More recently, Mr. Roul worked as an Assistant South Asia Regional Coordinator for the Bank Information Center (, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank, regional development banks, and the International Monetary Fund. Presently, he contributes his time on researching and empowering and building capacity of various communities on environment risk management, climate change, forest, mining, water and wildlife issues in South Asia as well as advisor to Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict – a Delhi Based think tank.

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Engineering, Hydroelectric, Other, Regional, Solar2 Comments

Cleaning Up China

Even if China cuts energy per unit GNP by 50%, to
increase per capita income to 50% of the USA,
energy production will still need to increase 40%.

Editor’s Note: China and India, along with much of the rest of Asia, is industrializing at a pace that is astonishing by any historical standard. And with nearly double digit annual economic growth impacting literally 50% of the world’s population, roughly 3.0 billion people, comes an insatiable appetite for energy.

With reference to China in particular, we have covered their ongoing and epic transformation to a fully industrialized nation within mere decades before, in our reports “China’s Energy Demand,” “China’s Renewable Energy,” “Wind Power in China,” “China’s Energy Outlook,” “Fuel Cell Development in China,” “China, Canals & Coal,” and others. In all of these reports the message is the same – with over 1.3 billion people, the industrialization of China (along with India) is turning the global energy economy on its ears.

Between 1995 and 2005 China’s energy consumption has more than doubled – from 33 quadrillion BTUs to 67 quadrillion BTUs, and her economy has increased by a factor of 13x, from $700 billion to 10.1 trillion dollars. The perspicacious reader will take heart from the fact that these numbers mean China’s energy intensity – the efficiency whereby energy is converted into wealth – has improved by an impressive 86%, from 46,000 BTU’s per dollar of GNP in 1995 to only 6,600 BTUs per dollar of GNP in 2005. This is probably due to most of the new energy currently being produced in China going to manufacturing. As the Chinese middle class continues to grow, China’s energy intensity may become less efficient again. By comparison, the USA in 2005 had an energy intensity virtually tied with China’s – 7,000 BTUs per dollar of GNP.

In the following report by Sam Goffman and Peter Wang, part one of a five part series, China’s renewable energy prospects are explored in depth. In summary, renewable energy production in China is expected to increase from 7.5 percent of total energy produced today to over 15 percent by 2020. This is an impressive goal, but is overshadowed by the fact that total energy production in China must increase dramatically. As the above table demonstrates, even if the Chinese improve their energy intensity by another 50%, which would be an incredible achievement, in order for China’s 1.3 billion people to attain a per capita income only 50% that of the United States, energy production in China will still need to increase by 40%, from 62 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”) per year in 2006 to over 94 quads per year. If so, doubling China’s renewable energy sector to 15% of all the energy they produce would nonetheless require annual nonrenewable energy production to increase from 62 quads to 80 quads, an increase of nearly 30 percent. Can the global energy economy sustain this rate of depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, particularly since India and other rising nations will need to log similar overall increases in energy production?

One factor however that may be grossly underestimated in this report is the speed with which solar energy will grow. In this report, solar energy is projected to reach “1.8 gigawatts by 2020.” We think this projection is way too low. According to a white paper prepared by THT Research, China is projected to increase polysilicon production for photovoltaic cells from 230 tons per year in 2006 to 12,660 tons per year by 2011. In 2005 roughly 30,000 tons of polysilicon was produced worldwide, with one third of it going to production of photovoltaics (the rest was used by the semi-conductor industry). And in 2005 the worldwide manufacturing output of photovoltaics was about 2.5 gigawatts.

This means that unless China intends to export most of her polysilicon, by 2011 she will be manufacturing in excess of 2.5 gigawatts of crystaline photovoltaic capacity every year. And given the very recent viability of thin film photovoltaic manufacturing technologies which don’t require polysilicon, the ratio of gigawatt capacity to tons of polysilicon feedstock will not be nearly as relevant in the future as it is today, since thin film only accounted for about 6% of global photovoltaic production in 2005. Moreover, none of the projections in this report address the potential of utility scale solar thermal power, which has just become economically competitive with conventional electricity generation. The report to follow may well be underestimating the potential of solar power in China by several orders of magnitude, and if so, that is a very, very good thing. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Renewable Energy – Helping China Clean Up
by Sam Goffman & Terry Wang, Interfax-China, November 29, 2007
Lake Tai, China
Lake Tai’s breathtaking beauty
belies the fact it is one of
the most polluted lakes in China.
(Photo: Wikipedia)

It’s no secret that China is on the brink of environmental crisis. As the country works to clean up its act, the development of the renewable energy industry could mean a big payoff to investors as well as Chinese society as a whole.

A recent article in the New York Times profiles a Chinese environmental activist named Wu Lihong. The article, part of the paper’s series on environmental degradation in China, documents Wu’s attempts to clean up Lake Tai, one of China’s most polluted bodies of water. As the article shows, Wu’s efforts have been truly heroic: he has campaigned vigorously against corrupt officials, has succeeded in generating public awareness about the problem and has risked his own livelihood – including possible jail time – for the cause.

Western reportage about the environment in China, such as the Times article about Wu, inevitably focuses on the disastrous environmental degradation that has accompanied the country’s rapid economic growth, noting that the government’s proclamations of concern for the environment mostly go unfulfilled. Such reporting usually carries with it the implication that pro-environment statements made by the Chinese government are just for show, and treats the government as a homogeneous entity and Chinese society as interested only in making money.

However, the reality is not so simple. China’s 5-year plans and far-reaching policies are indeed often bogged down in the obsession with economic progress, and the rapid pace of economic growth combined with the sheer size of the country means that effectively implementing those policies is difficult and prone to corruption and inefficiency. Focusing on activists such as Wu Lihong puts the problems of China’s embrace of capitalism in stark relief. Yet it should be noted that such cases may obscure the larger potential of China’s environmental efforts, specifically its renewable energy industry. Prominent officials and institutions in the Chinese government frequently indicate an awareness of the country’s environmental problems. China’s drive to build up its renewable energy industry will offer many opportunities for foreign investment, and the government’s plans for the future – the kinds of policies that will see fruit in the long term – are far from unpromising.

China’s plans for the future

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the institution responsible for the country’s macroeconomic planning, plans to have renewable energy account for 10 percent of China’s total energy consumption by 2010, and 15 percent by 2020, compared to 7.5 percent in 2005. (In comparison, in the United States about 7 percent of energy consumption was supplied by renewable energy in 2005 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, less than China’s figure for that year.)

Main Three Gorges Dam
The main dam at the Three Gorges Complex.
When complete, this hydroelectric project will
generate a staggering 17.5 gigawatts of electricity.
(Photo: NASA)

Breaking that figure down further, the NDRC aims for hydropower generation capacity to reach 180 gigawatts a year by 2010 and 300 GW by 2020, compared to 115 GW in 2005; annual wind power generation capacity to reach 5 GW by 2010 and 30 GW by 2020, compared to 1.3 GW in 2005; biomass capacity to reach 5.5 GW in 2010 and 30 GW in 2020, compared to 2 GW in 2005; and, finally, solar power to reach 0.3 GW in 2010 and 1.8 GW in 2020, compared to 0.07 in 2005.

As for the very long term, an energy development plan compiled by the China Academy of Sciences (CAS), a Chinese government think tank, recently recommended that the country should push to make nuclear power and renewable energy (besides hydropower) main elements of the country’s energy mix by about 2030, and ensure that dependency on fossil fuels falls under 60 percent by 2050.

Government projections of renewable energy in China’s overall energy usage, 2005-2020

Can China achieve its goals?

Are these goals feasible? It’s too soon to know for sure. On the one hand, the government has often expressed its seriousness in reaching its environmental targets, and has issued several preferential tax policies and subsidies to support the development of renewable energy. On the other hand, the country has fallen short of some of its yearly goals. Energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product fell by only 1.23 percent in 2006, one-third of the country’s annual target of four percent. The government has said it will stick to its previous plan of cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010, or 4 percent annually, as well as emissions by 10 percent for the period.

Taking wind power, one of China’s fastest growing renewable energy sectors, as another example, the sector ranked sixth in the world in terms of wind power generation capacity in 2006, up from eighth in 2005, according to the NDRC. Figures released by the Global Wind Power Council indicate that wind power installed capacity in China went up from 1260 megawatts in 2005 to 2610 MW in 2006, an increase of 107 percent.

In short, China’s record is inconsistent – some projects succeed, while others stall. What is clear is that the country will have to be more rigorous in implementing energy-saving measures if it really plans to achieve its environmental goals.

China’s renewable energy potential: analyses and predictions

Many Western analysts are optimistic about China’s renewable energy potential. Dr. Eric Martinot, a former senior energy and environment specialist at the World Bank, told Interfax in June, “For all the [renewable] technologies [apart from biomass], I think they’ll all achieve [the targets] early. Wind will go definitely more than 30 GW by 2020 and it would very likely achieve its 2010 target two years early. Also for hydropower, I think they’ll achieve the target early.”

There have also been indications that many elements in the Chinese government, including prominent government officials and institutions, are increasingly willing to confront environmental problems head-on. The Three Gorges Dam hydroelectric project, a pet project of powerful Chinese officials, has caused landslides, stagnant pollution and excessive algae. All of these problems were finally admitted openly in September by government officials (though there was no mention of another problem with the project, the forced relocation of nearby residents). Wang Xiaofeng, the director of the Three Gorges Construction Commission on the State Council, which is in charge of building the dam, reportedly said, “We must never lower our guard against environmental problems caused by the Three Gorges project, and we cannot achieve economic prosperity at the cost of damaging the environment.” Such openness has earned praise from international commentators. “It’s the first time that Chinese officials have (openly) talked about the pollution issues and environmental effects of the Three Gorges Dam. It’s a milestone for the Chinese government to show a positive attitude towards solving the ecological problems caused by the project,” Dr. Li Lin, the Conservation Strategy Director for the World Wildlife Fund’s China branch, told Interfax.

The development of renewable energy in China: pitfalls and opportunities

Windmills at Dabancheng
The Dabancheng Wind Farm
At 100 megawatts, China’s largest

The country will face several hurdles in its development of the renewable energy industry. The biggest hurdle is also foreign companies’ biggest opportunity: the need to attract more foreign investment. As Francois Nguyen, senior policy adviser with Paris-based International Energy Agency, explained to Interfax in May, “The obstacle is that China needs to attract more foreign companies and in order to achieve that, China needs to provide more incentives.” Nguyen added that China needs a more diverse and competitive market that can ensure efficient allocation of resources, and needs to reorganize the government regulators in charge of the industry. “Right now the NDRC controls both policy-making and implementation,” he said. “If you have an independent market watcher and an independent regulator, that will give confidence to foreign investors.”

China will also have to improve its technology to develop the renewable energy industry. In the wind power sector, building wind turbines is expensive, and China still largely relies on foreign equipment. “In 2006, 60 percent of all wind power equipment in use in China was imported from overseas. Such equipment is expensive, as equipment prices have soared in recent years on the international market,” Qin Haiyan, secretary-general of the China Wind Energy Association, said in June, as cited by state media. He added that only three domestic companies are able to mass produce equipment with an individual capacity of more than 1.5 MW. Other sectors, such as solar and geothermal, face similar problems: the government will need to invest substantial resources in technological development to spur the renewable energy industry.

Another problem is that energy produced by renewable energy projects tends to be more expensive than traditional sources. The solar power sector is a good example. Eric Martinot, the former World Bank official, said that an important question is, “how soon will the cost come down so that there will be a domestic market for solar PV [photovoltaic]? We are looking at maybe at least five years. Actually a lot of people are thinking much longer. The first problem with solar in China is the acceptance by the utility companies to use power generated by solar power.”

Development of the industry may suffer from infrastructure problems as well. One potential obstacle that is often overlooked is the difficulty in connecting some renewable energy projects, especially wind power, to national and local grids. “The government likes to talk about how rapidly China is building up its wind power capacity, seeing it as a symbol of achievement in its renewable energy drive,” Shi Pengfei, the vice chairman of the China Wind Energy Association, told Interfax earlier this year. “However, to me, it means nothing, as it will only make a difference in our energy mix when the grid is able to receive a majority of the power generated.” Shi added that steps are being taken to address the problem, such as requiring wind power projects to consult with local and national grids before construction.

In the coming years, all sectors of the renewable energy industry – wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, nuclear, geothermal, waste-to-energy, clean coal and gas-fired power generation – will be expanded. All will face obstacles, but it is increasingly apparent that the Chinese government recognizes the reality of the environmental crisis, and will work to build up renewable energy in the country. As Li Lin from the WWF put it, “In recent years the central and local governments have gradually realized that sustainable economic development won’t happen without effective environment protection.”

Interfax China Logo

This article was originally published by Interfax-China, and is republished with permission. Author Sam Goffman is the Editor of the Interfax-China Energy Sector Team, with special thanks to Terry Wang, Sector Analyst, Interfax-China. This article is part one of a five part series written as part of the research efforts for Interfax-China’s “China Clean & Renewable Energy to 2010″ special industry report. To automatically receive the other parts of the series please send an email to

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Coal, Conservation, Consumption, Effects Of Air Pollution, Electricity, Energy, Energy Industry, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Infrastructure, Nuclear, Other, Policies & Solutions, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind0 Comments

India's Hydroelectric Power

Our top feature this month on EcoWorld is an in-depth report on India’s hydroelectric power by Avilash Roul entitled “India’s Hydro Power.” Within this article the reader is provided a comprehensive survey of India’s current hydroelectric generating capacity, their potential hydroelectric capacity, as well as the current plans India has to develop more of their potential hydro power. Also within this article is detailed analysis of the pros and cons of hydroelectric power development in India.

The purpose of this post is not to restate what is within Roul’s lengthy report, but to provide a forum for comments and debates on this topic of vital importance. As we note in our introduction to the story “for India to produce half as much energy per capita as members of the European Community, its overall energy production would need to quadruple.” Can this challenge be met? Should this challenge be met? We would say yes to both of these rhetorical questions, but then the question becomes how?

Hydroelectric power, nuclear power, biofuel, and fossil fuel all offer significant solutions towards increasing India’s energy production, but none of them are without serious concerns. Other alternatives considered greener are not without drawbacks; photovoltaic and solar thermal, our favorite alternatives, are going to take a long time before their installed base begins to take on a serious share of overall energy production. Does India have that long?

Should India develop all of its hydroelectric potential? Should India develop any of its hydroelectric potential? How can India’s compelling need for more energy to fuel economic growth be balanced with humanitarian and environmental concerns, as well as the need to preserve individual rights and the democratic process that is one of India’s greatest assets?

Posted in Hydroelectric, Other, Solar2 Comments

India's Hydro Power

Brahmaputra River
The mighty Brahmaputra courses southwest, then south,
connecting Himalayan glaciers to the Andaman Sea.

Editor’s Note: In our recent feature “Technology & Sunlight – India’s Green Future” we calculated that for India to produce half as much energy per capita as members of the European Community, its overall energy production would need to quadruple.

While India has technology and sunlight in abundance, and while these are key ingredients for a green energy future, it is daunting to think solar thermal and solar electric power can increase their share of energy production from today’s negligible percentage to provide all needed growth in energy production within a generation.

While biofuel offers potential, barring pending breakthroughs that facilitate biofuel from sources other than crops, there is a finite boundary to how much biofuel can be grown. And biofuel from crops come at the expense of food and forest, and are themselves major drivers of climate change when cooling and rain-inducing forests give way en-masse to new plantations of thirsty biofuel monocultures.

For this reason we have examined the alternatives to the alternatives; conventional energy options such as fossil fuels (including heavy oil), nuclear power, and hydroelectricity. In our report “China’s Renewable Energy,” it is clear what a nation with a strong central government can accomplish. The Three Gorges hydroelectric complex will have a capacity of 17.5 gigawatts, a staggering amount of energy – the single massive Three Gorges installation will output more than 50% of the entire output of every one of India’s current hydroelectric power stations combined! But in democratic India, projects of such magnitude take time, as they probably should. Not every gorge should be dammed.

Yet India’s compelling need to produce more energy remains. And unlike a nation like the United States, where power is already available in abundance and energy efficiency innovations can address much (some would say all) of their energy challenges, there isn’t as much time in India to debate options. Projects in the United States can take decades to gain approval through the democratic process, but the United States has decades to wait. Unlike the USA which is in a post-industrial phase, India needs more energy now to complete their process of industrialization. India needs more energy now in order for its energy infrastructure to keep pace with its burgeoning and world class scientific and technology community, and to give those communities the raw materials they need to lift India to the higher standard of living their innovations promise.

This is the challenge India faces – to balance democratic dialogue, which require delays and compromise, with the need to fulfill urgent economic imperatives. To lose too much democracy or to forfeit too many innovations in an energy challenged nation are both unacceptable outcomes. There is a balance between traditional technologies for energy conservation and water harvesting and small dams, for example, and mega projects such as interlinking rivers and nuclear power plants and large hydroelectric dams. In finding that balance, not everything will be lost, but not everything will be saved, either. The only way India will find a route into the eventual solar future will be to embrace some of these alternatives to the alternatives, unpleasant though they may be, but to do this in a way that leaves enough wilderness and democracy intact to make the choice worthwhile. It can be done.

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

India’s Hydro Power – Can India Achieve its Potential?
by Avilash Roul, October 17, 2007
Jhkari Hydroelectric Plant in India
The 1,500 megawatt Jhkari Hydroelectric Plant, India’s
largest underground hydro-electric project;
Satluj River, Himachal Pradesh
(Photo: Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd, India)

The Indian economist Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is eager to provide electricity to every village by 2009, thereby surpassing the official target of “power to all by 2012.”

Over 40 percent of India’s population does not have access to electricity and providing electricity for 24 hours in rural areas is a major challenge. For this the Indian government has envisioned several paths for its energy requirements, from nuclear to renewable. Despite greening its energy requirements, the government has taken various paths from bidding foreign oil well through diplomatic manoeuvring to establishing fossil fuel thermal plants. Meanwhile, hydro-power is one of the energy sources which oscillate between aspiration and achievements. But today there is a strong push for large hydro projects in India. While the pro-hydro lobby is working towards meeting India’s full potential, the anti-hydro-power groups are targeting those projects which they believe are violating environmental and human rights norms. Despite growing number of oppositions to hydro-power, the Indian government is very optimistic to achieve its potential.

By end of August 2007, the total installed capacity in India is 135,402 megawatts (MW), out of which thermal occupies 86,976 MW (64.5 %), hydro 34,131 MW (24.8 %), nuclear 4,120 MW (3.1 %), and renewable 10,175 MW (7.6 %). Out of the total thermal mix, coal produces 71,932 MW (53.4 %), gas produces 13,842 MW (10.2 %) and oil produces a mere 1,202 MW (0.9 %). In comparison with other countries like Canada (17,179 kWh), USA (13,338 kWh), Australia (11,126 kWh), Japan (8,076 kWh), France (7,689 kWh), Germany (7,030 kWh), United Kingdom (6,206 kWh), Russia (5,642 kWh) and Italy (5,644 kWh), India’s per capita electricity consumption is very low at 631 kWh at present. The National Electricity Policy envisages that the per capita availability of electricity will be increased to over 1,000 kWh by 2012. To achieve this, the government is expecting a total capacity addition of about 78,577 MW at the end of 2012 of which 16,553 MW is expected from hydro, 58,644 MW from thermal and 3,380 MW from nuclear. Although India has significant potential for generation of power from non-conventional energy sources (183,000 MW) such as wind, small hydro, biomass and solar energy, the emphasis is still going to thermal energy sources. India has at present a 7.5% overall electrical energy shortage and 11% peaking shortage.

Options for Hydropower

In the 2005 National Electricity Policy the objectives have been set as follows: provision for access to electricity for all households; demand to be met by 2012 with no energy and peaking shortages and adequate reserves to be made available and reliable, and quality power supplies at reasonable rates.

The Indian government considers hydropower as a renewable economic, non-polluting and environmentally benign source of energy. The exploitable hydro-electric potential in terms of installed capacity is estimated to be about 148,700 MW (See Table 1) out of which a capacity of 30,164 MW (20.3%) has been developed so far and 13,616 MW (9.2 %) of capacity is under construction. In addition, 6,782 MW in terms of installed capacity from small, mini and micro hydro schemes have been assessed. Also, 56 sites for pumped storage schemes with an aggregate installed capacity of 94,000 MW have been identified. The government expects to harness its full potential of hydropower by 2027 with a whopping investment of 5,000 billion Rupees.

Chart of India's Hydroelectric Potential by River Basin
India has the potential to nearly triple their hydroelectric output.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority

Stages of Hydro Power Development

In 1887 at Darjeeling, state of West Bengal, the first hydropower station in India was commissioned. At the time of independence, out of total installed capacity of 1,362 MW, hydro-power generation capacity stood at 508 MW. The share of hydropower in the country had a major thrust after Independence, when it rose from 37% at the end of 1947 to its peak share of 51% at the end of 1962/63. While there has been a continuous increase in the installed capacity of hydro power stations in India, today the share of hydro power has been reduced to only 25% of total electric power generation. The government believes the strong public opposition to dams in India is the reason for slower progress.

In India, power is a concurrent subject and the primary responsibility as far as the consumer is concerned vests with the States who have full responsibility for distribution. During 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), the Government has identified hydro-power benefits of 38,242 MW (See Table 2). During the same period the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd., a government of India enterprise, is targeting to install 5,837 MW of hydropower in India. In the approach paper on power and energy to the 11th Five Year Plan-2007-2012, the government is anticipating in hydro capacity addition of 16,553 MW of which Central Sector will add 9,685 MW, State Sector 3,605 MW and Private Sector 3,263 MW. From 1,061 MW in 1st Five Year Plan (1951-1956), the hydro power has grown to 34,131 MW at the end of 10th Five Year Plan (See Table 3). In fact installed capacity of hydro has increased at a compound growth rate of 4.35% per annum since 1991, higher than all other power sub-sectors.

Hydropower Projects in India
Hydropower projects possible in 12th plan (2012-2017), listed by state, then by river.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority
India's Hydropower Projects During 5-Year Plans
Plan-wise growth of installed capacity of hydropower.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority

The Union Ministry of Power has taken several policy measures to accelerate capacity addition from hydro-electric projects. These include: higher budgetary allocation for the hydro sector; investment approval of new projects; identification of new projects, promoting State Sector projects which were languishing or could not progress due to Inter-State disputes; improving tariff dispensation for hydro projects; simplification of procedure for transfer of clearance; levy of 5% development surcharge to supplement resources for hydro electric projects. While the Power Ministry is responsible for the development of large hydro power projects in India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been responsible for small and mini hydro projects up to 3MW station capacity since 1989.

Private Sector Participation:

With the economic liberalisation, the Indian government also opened up the doors in 1991 to private companies for the setting up of private hydropower projects. However, so far only about 910 MW has been commissioned by the help of private players, which constitutes less than 3 percent of the total installed hydropower capacity. The present major private developers are Malana Power Company Ltd., the Jaypee Group and S. Kumar Group. Seeing the vast potential present in the hydro power generation, Jaypee ventured into private power generation on a “Build, Own, Operate” (BOO) basis. So far Jaypee has the distinction of participating in 54% of new hydropower projects under India’s Tenth Five Year Plan.

Small Hydro-Power: A Viable Option

Small Hydropower Project in Himachal Pradesh
Small 100 KW hydro power project in Himachal Pradesh
(Photo: MNES)

Small and mini hydel projects have the potential to provide energy in remote and hilly areas where extension of an electrical transmission grid system is uneconomical. Realising this fact, the Indian government is encouraging development of small hydro power (SHP) projects in the country. Since 1994 the role of private sector for setting up of commercial SHP projects has been encouraged. So far 14 States in India have announced policies for setting up commercial SHP projects through private sector participation. Over 760 sites of about 2,000 MW capacity have already been offered / allotted.

An estimated potential of about 15,000 MW of small hydropower (SHP) projects exists in India. 4,233 potential sites with an aggregate capacity of 10,071 MW for projects up to 25 MW capacities have been identified (See Table-4). In the last 10-12 years, the capacity of Small hydro projects up to 3MW has increased 4 fold from 63 MW to 240 MW. 420 small hydropower projects up to 25MW station capacity with an aggregate capacity of over 1,423 MW have been set up in the country and over 187 projects in this range with aggregate capacity of 521 MW are under construction.

The MNES provides various incentives like soft loans for setting up of SHP projects up to 25 MW capacity in the commercial sector, renovation and modernization of SHP projects, setting up of portable micro hydel sets, development / upgradation of water mills, detailed survey and investigation, detailed project report preparation, interest subsidy for commercial projects, capital subsidy for SHP projects in the North-Eastern region, and implementation of UNDP/GEF Hilly Hydro project. India has a reasonably well-established manufacturing base for the full range and type of small hydro equipment. There are currently eight manufacturers within India in the field of small hydro manufacturing, supplying various types of turbines, generators, control equipment, etc.

Chart of Hydropower Sites in India Capable of 25MW
Sites capable of up to 25 MW capacity,
another 5,000 MW is believed to be possible.
(Photo: MNES)

The Role of International Agencies on Hydro-Power

Major hydro-power structures are being funded by international financial institutions like World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Export Credit Agency, and bilateral agencies like Japan Bank for International Cooperation(JBIC), and the French Government, Canada, UK, Sweden, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and the US in India. Since 1956 the World Bank has been involved in the hydro-power development in India. The Bank is looking to support India’s hydro development program ( through financial assistance for up to about 1,500 MW of hydropower capacity over the next three to five years. Besides the 412 MW Rampur Hydroelectric Project approved by the Bank’s Board in early September 2007 (, the Bank also received a request to finance the proposed 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydropower Project ( being developed by the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation on the Alaknanda River in the state of Uttranchal. The Bank would also like to assist in the 700 MW Luhri hydro power project in Himachal Pradesh.

Similarly, the Asian Development Bank has begun its engagement in producing hydro-power in Uttranchal in India with 4 SHPs (4-10 MW). However, the Manila based-regional development bank believes that India’s vast hydropower potential can contribute to the country’s energy security in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner. The latest report of ADB (Hydropower Development in India, 2007) provides an assessment of the hydropower development potential in India and highlights how hydropower can meet the country’s goal of providing power for all by 2012. In all probability, the World Bank would like to assist in construction of hydropower structures; the ADB will lay the transmission lines from the projects to the grid.

As major rivers transcend international boundaries in South Asia, India has taken up regional (mostly bilateral) cooperation on harnessing the hydro-power potential of international river systems. At present, India has cooperation with Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar on hydro-power.

Challenges and Constraints

The hydro-power in India has always caught the imagination of people’s struggle, displacement, and submergence of large virgin forest tracts and now, the instrument of greenhouse gas emissions. The large hydropower infrastructures usually categorise with adjectives such as “temples of modern India” or “monument to corruptions” or “weapons of mass destruction” and so on. Can these perceptions be changed on the issue of large hydro-power dams?

From a hydro-engineering point of view, the immense potential of hydropower in India is yet to be harnessed. For an engineer, it’s mandatory to build a dam for producing electricity. One of my hydro-engineer colleagues in India’s government argues, “the hydro power is the best option in the Indian context considering the large volume of water going to waste. Besides, hydro-power is better than thermal power as the former is cheaper, can be generated and utilised as per the need without any overhead costs for idle runs.” “Also the thermal units take a longer time to be restarted,” adds the Engineer who is preparing mega hydro-power projects in Orissa. The Engineer tries to convince me that “there are no flaws in hydro power except building a reservoir, and sometimes commissioning of the projects takes more time. The government’s last resort is run of the river (RoR) projects which are the small ones with less producing capacity. This is explored when one does not have the other option.”

For anti-dam activists hydro-power is just an option, not mandatory. They view any estimate on hydropower – the very fact of putting a number with an electricity unit – as flawed and fraudulent. From this perspective, water-the-resource, has other utilities and needs more significant than than generating electricity. Anti-dam activists point out the centralized character of large hydro power projects, with high costs, potential under performance, violations and inequity as the basic flaws.

Hydropower provides one of the strongest examples of the close link between water and energy. Because of its link with large dam projects, which are often environmentally and socially harmful, hydropower has been the focus of heated debate for the last two decades in India. The main negative impacts of dams include displacement of local populations and degradation of ecosystems, adverse down-stream effects on rivers and threatening livelihoods of large numbers of people. Hydro-power has been contested by all except government officials for its efficiency or being green. It’s true that there is little attempt for credible assessment of performance of large hydro. Of late, the large hydro projects have been presented by neo-anti-dam experts as instruments of emission of greenhouse gases more than remedies of climate change because the large dams are the public image of environmental and social degradation in the developing world. The IPCC recognized in its 2006 guidelines on greenhouse gas inventories that reservoirs are a source of emissions, but more research is needed to be able to accurately quantify the extent of these emissions, especially of methane. So whether hydropower is green and renewable or not is gaining more heated discourse than its centralised character of production, distribution and management.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Power is taking notes of the long gestation period from preparation to implementation of the project which is actually hampering the capacity addition. The other weaknesses are duration of preparing a project report, taking an investment decision, acquiring land, getting environment clearance, placing orders for execution of the project. Also there is a great imbalance in capacity addition among the States. However, the major problem is the opposition to hydro power projects all over India.

Should India Achieve its Hydro-Power Potential?

Small Hyrdopower Station in West Bengal
Sidrapong, a small 130 KW Hydro Power Station in
West Bengal; a heritage of Hydro power in India.
(Photo: MNES)

The trust in government and its bureaucracy has been eroding in India thereby leaving more avenues for contested domains. It has been very difficult transforming the government intentions to produce electricity from the large water infrastructures after the Sardar Sorvar Project debacle in the early 1990′s. The small hydro projects are being cautiously implemented by the governments. However in some cases the adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts of large dams can be mitigated through informed decision-making, transparency and engagement of all stakeholders. In all probability, the advantages and disadvantages of hydro-power structures, large or small, have to be discussed with people transparently.

The present social and environmental assessments of the hydro projects are flawed from many angles which triggers real and imaginary conflicts of interest. To settle the People’s concern, after two years of debate the Indian Cabinet has recently passed the National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement, 2007. In particular, there has to be clear recognition in all decision making related to dams that a balance needs to found between the needs for use of renewable energy, and the minimization of possible harmful effects on the environment – especially mountain environments where most of the hydro-potential resides. Mountain regions have particular potential for use and production of renewable energy, not only hydro, but also biomass, solar, geothermal or wind; clearly, the adverse environmental effects on fragile mountain ecosystems need to be carefully assessed and prevented before developments take place. Also, possible social issues between upstream (often poor mountain communities) and downstream communities (often the main beneficiaries of energy production) need to be addressed.

About the Author: Avilash Roul has been writing, advocating, researching, creating knowledge on Environment and Development in various English Daily media since 2000. He worked with Down To Earth (fortnightly magazine published in New Delhi, India) for the last three years. He also contributed regularly in Sundays for a column in New India Express on environment and development. More recently, Mr. Roul worked as an Assistant South Asia Regional Coordinator for the Bank Information Center (, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank, regional development banks, and the International Monetary Fund.

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Effects Of Air Pollution, Electricity, Energy, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Engineering, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Infrastructure, Nuclear, Other, Policies & Solutions, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind23 Comments

Cautionary Cleantech Metrics

The clean technology revolution is upon us, but investors and entrepreneurs should exercise caution when placing their bets. Here are some contrarian considerations that could well be vindicated in the coming years, and if they are, subsidies will dry up, the legislative and regulatory environment will shift dramatically, and entire industries that were built on today’s conventional wisdom will no longer exist.

Most of the investments made in energy today, for example, rest on the assumption that energy is scarce – but in reality energy is not scarce, what is scarce is energy that conventional wisdom defines as “clean energy.” This definition, in turn, has recently become far, far more restrictive, insofar as any energy production that causes CO2 emissions is no longer considered clean. But there are a growing number of climatologists, such as Dr. Richard Pielke, Sr. at the University of Colorado, who believe changes in land use – tropical deforestation in particular – have a role in climate change that current models greatly underestimate. What if the greater cause of droughts, extreme weather, and global warming were found to be the result of land use change? Would we still be burning rainforests in the tropics, and depleting aquifers on the high plains of North America to grow biofuel crops?

In the influential book “Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage,” author Kenneth Deffeyes argues we are running out of oil and that a catastrophic collapse in oil supplies is inevitable. This point of view totally ignores the feasibility of extracting usable oil from the so called “heavy oil” reserves, as well as recovering oil from coal. At $70 per barrel, these technologies are viable today – and every time the price of oil rises, these technologies become more feasible. Oil from the Athabasca tar sands, for example, is recoverable at a price of $45 per barrel. Similar costs apply to the massive reserves in Venezuela’s Orinoco basin.

According to, the world reserves of light crude oil, as of 2006, were roughly equal to the amount of oil that has been extracted so far, that is, about 800 billion barrels of light crude has been used so far, and about 1,000 billion barrels of conventional oil reserves remain – and this is the low number, some estimates go as high as 1,600 billion barrels remaining of conventional oil reserves. But recoverable reserves of heavy oil add another 2,400 billion barrels to that total. This means that at current rates of consumption, we have at least another 100 years of oil. Add technologies for coal-to-liquid conversions, and we have another 200 years of oil. Add the ultra-efficient innovations that high energy prices inevitably spawn, and the world economy can easily rely on fossil fuels for several generations to come.

Based on these facts, it becomes clear that the “shortage” of energy in the world is a political invention, more than anything else based on environmental concerns. But here is the environmental choice between fossil fuel and biofuel: We can dig up the entire Athabasca tar sands region, as well as the entire Orinoco basin, and if we do this, we will disrupt a combined area equivalent to 75,000 square miles. So for a 70 year supply of oil for the entire world economy at today’s rates of consumption, we would disrupt 75,000 square miles. But if we turn to biofuel instead, at an average yield per square mile of 5,000 barrels per year, to get the same amount of oil we would have to use up 5.8 million square miles of land, which is twice as big as all remaining tropical rainforests, or put another way, about 60% of all farmland on earth. Not only is this impossible, but this is far more disruptive to the environment.

There are other sources of biofuel besides crops, to be sure, but they are not yet commercially viable, and they have their own sets of problems. Cellulosic extraction of ethanol, for example, promises to use crop residue instead of crops as a feedstock for ethanol. The problem with this, however, is that crop residue is supposed to be plowed back into the fields to ensure a healthy organic content in the soil for crops in years to come. If these considerations are taken into account, the amount of feedstock for biofuels shrinks dramatically. Taking these restrictions into account, cellulosic feedstocks for biofuel may yield significant supplemental sources of fuel, but they will not replace crude oil. There is a 3rd generation technology for biofuel, also not yet commercialized, that promises to grow biofuel in tanks, where a feedstock such as algae is fed water, light and CO2, and out comes biofuel. Pioneering companies in this area are LS9 and Amyris, both based in the San Francisco Bay Area. These 3rd generation biofuel technologies, while potentially hazardous and not nearly commercially viable today, nonetheless bear watching.

When examining energy alternatives, it is important to realize that most of them are themselves potentially very disruptive to the environment in their own right, particularly if you scale these up to actually compete with conventional energy. Currently 80% of the energy consumed in the world comes from fossil fuel, 10% comes from biomass (i.e., the cooking fires from gathering wood throughout the undeveloped tropics), about 6.5% comes from nuclear power and 3% comes from hydroelectric power. Only one-half of one percent comes from alternative energy, and 80% of that comes from geothermal power. So power from wind, tides and currents, and solar sources, right now, only produce two-tenths of one percent of the world’s energy. What if half the energy production in the developed world, say 200 quadrillion BTUs per year, were to come from these alternative sources, as certain prominent activists would have us pledge to do within the next generation

This would equate to about 6,600 gigawatt-years of electric power, which could take the form of 3,000 very large nuclear power stations, each station consisting of three 750 megawatt reactors. Depending on your opinion of nuclear power, this may or may not sound horrendous. But imagine if this were accomplished with windmills? The biggest windmills we’ve got can generate five megawatts at full output. Over time they will yield about half that, since even in excellent locations the wind doesn’t blow constantly. So for each of your 9,000 nuclear reactors that put out 750 megawatts each, you instead will require 300 of the biggest windmills ever built – a total of 2.7 million. How much concrete will each of these 2.7 million windmills require? How much skyline will their 300 foot rotors consume?

The point is most alternative energy requires massive allocations of land and capital. How long will the global environmental lobby, more powerful than ever, turn a blind eye to the destruction of our rainforests for biofuel, and the disruption of every windy hill or tidal estuary on earth for another windmill or marine current turbine? This is a lobby that has choked off every ambitious land development or new oil refinery for the last 30 years – but they will tolerate us covering the earth with windmills and the seabed with underwater turbines? Wait until there is one good volcanic eruption – something that will cool the earth for decades – or one credible refutation of the theory that industrial CO2 is more significant than land use changes in causing global warming. When either of these things occur, and they probably will, regulations and subsidies for biofuel, along with wind and tidal generators, will melt away, wiping out vast sectors of these industries.

On the other hand, solar power – photovoltaics in particular – may be relatively undervalued by investors. In 2006, total world production of photovoltaics was only about 3.0 gigawatts, and the thin-film technologies only represented about 5% of that total. With the shortages of polysilicon easing, and thin film and concentrator technologies beginning to mature, estimates of world photovoltaic production are probably grossly understated. Earlier this year in Oregon, Applied Materials Corp. broke ground on a single plant that they expect will output 500 megawatts per year. That is 15% of production in the entire world last year! Manufacturing on this scale is being built everywhere, and the global output of photovoltaics may very well increase by 200-300 percent per year for many years to come. And photovoltaics, unlike biofuel or wind and tidal sources of energy, is not vulnerable to changes in political sentiment or scientific consensus.

The clean technology revolution is in many ways similar to the internet boom – a great deal of financial opportunity, with a lot of new entrants who are placing huge bets. The clean technology revolution also promises to be even more transformative than the internet boom, which is saying a lot. But unlike the internet boom which simply underwent a financial correction, along with that risk, many clean technologies are far more dependent on public policy priorities. Investors and entrepreneurs should remember that seismic shifts in sentiment could happen any day, and hedge accordingly.

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this post was posted on AlwaysOn on September 10th, 2007. This post was originally published in the Summer 2007 edition of AlwaysOn magazine.

Posted in Causes, Coal, Consumption, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Tidal, Wind1 Comment

Markets Solve Scarcity

The Great Cascade Mountains
The Great Cascade Mountains
So far, the snowpack does not appear threatened.

Editor’s Note: The Property & Environment Research Center, once known as the Political Economy Reserch Center, is one of the founders of free market environmentalism. They tackle a complex, and less emotionally accessible ideology, compared with today’s conventional wisdom which relies on big government.

How do you explain property ownership promotes environmental stewardship, when big government advocates can rhetorically claim private property nurtures greed? How do you argue that lower taxes and takings will create wealth and require less government for more quality of life for everyone, when big government can point to every poor person, every fouled property, and demand laws and regulations and more taxes for them to fix it? How do you explain market forces can ensure clean, responsible growth better than government controlled growth? It’s not easy, nor is everything black or white.

The Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) includes many renowned economists on their roster, including the author of this article, Terry Anderson. He is one of the pioneers of free market environmentalism, and founder of PERC. If free market environmentalist principles aren’t getting more voice, it is perhaps because the measured studies of the PERC thinkers are not going far enough. Their tone is so restrained, their arguments so reasoned, that the ire of the free man is not sufficiently aroused. We here at EcoWorld, on the other hand, know our fight. We want more development, not less, more energy production, not less. How else can we inject fresh water desalinated from seawater back into our land and cities in cubic kilometer volumes, in order to rehydrate the earth and replace impending water rationing with price competition between water providers?

If anything should have the propaganda detector of the American population sounding off it sould be global warming alarmism and the obsession with CO2 levels. In the name of these imperatives, both of them supposedly well beyond debate, now all land development outside “urban service boundaries” (along with all water and power development virtually anywhere) will be almost completely under the control of the government, and their willing lackeys, environmental financial interests. And why not have CO2 offset trading? It will pump a lot more money through the brokerages than privatizing social security. Never mind the FACT that European carbon offset payments are well on their way to having financed the destruction of millions of square miles of former tropical rainforest, with all the attendant consequences to global climate, indigeonous ownership, and wildlife protection. But Wall Street isn’t about to forfeit this windfall, nor are the environmentalists and their allies in big government. So who is left to fight the good fight?

With over two decades of intellectual leadership in the free market environmentalist movement, Terry Anderson knows what is happening in America today, and in measured tones, he is taking on the global warming alarmists, and their powerful backers. The example he provides here of intimidation of global warming skeptics by powerful government officials, in this case a government-employed climatologist in Washington state, is one of many. In July 2006, the President of ACORE (the American Council of Renewable Energy, in which several official U.S. Government Agencies belong), in a highly publicized gaff, openly threatened author Marlo Lewis, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who has published a series of essays questioning global warming (ref. “Let Skeptics be Skeptics”). Noted and reputable atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen, of MIT, has published another report (ref. “Is There A Basis For Global Warming Alarm”) which lists additional cases of intimidation of global warming skeptics within government agencies, the academic community, and through demonization in the press. So read on, and remember the truth is rarely found without debate, nor is falsehood long held, when debate thrives. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Fightin’ or Drinkin’
by Terry Anderson, PERC Reports, June 2007
The Grand Coulee Dam
The Grand Coulee Dam
So far, there’s plenty of water year-round.

Not surprisingly, global warming is getting the blame for drought conditions in many parts of the American West. For example, in the January 31, 2003, issue of Science, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that recent droughts in the West are caused at least partly by global warming-induced rises in western Pacific and Indian ocean temperatures. Pointing to data between 1950 and 1995 showing that snowpack accumulation in the Cascade Mountains had decreased 50 percent, Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center, said this: “In a state where salmon, hydroelectric power, and water resources generally depend on snowpack, the claim is a potential blockbuster.”

Before jumping on the mayor’s bandwagon, however, it is important to note just how careful we must be in making causal inferences based on selected data. The Washington Policy Center reports that Associate State Climatologist Mark Albright saw different trends in the data, casting doubt on this so called “blockbuster.” In a memo to scientists at the University of Washington, Albright suggested that there may have been some “cherry picking” with the 1950 to 1995 data. As he put it,

“I believe a more accurate statement would be along the lines of 1) The average snowpack in the Cascades has increased over the past 30 years in spite of the steady upward trend in global temperature, or

2) Long term data indicates no signifcant trend in Cascade Mountains snowpack over the past 90 years, or

3) The snowpack (1997-2007) at Mt. Rainier Paradise has increased 11% since the 1940s.”

For his reinterpretation, he was told that he could no longer use the title of Associate State Climatologist.

Such controversies permeate the global warming debate because it has become so politicized. In the case of water supplies in the American West, for example, there is nothing more political than the plumbing system created by the Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers. As moisture patterns shift, whether due to global warming or other causes, agricultural users may find their irrigation water gone, salmon may be left high and dry, and hydroelectric producers may be called on to replace more fossil fuel production. Making these tradeoffs in the context of the West’s water pork barrel, however, will not be easy.

For this reason, stories such as those in this issue of Reports none of the proposed global warming policies, including doing everything proposed in the Kyoto Protocol, will have any meaningful effect on temperature or sea level changes. Moreover, predictions of local impacts of global warming as indicated by the above example are less than precise, making governmental planning problematic.

Assuming that predictions from the global warming models regarding higher temperatures and increased variance in precipitation patterns come to pass and that there is little we can do to reverse the predicted trends, the best alternative is adaptation. For centuries markets and their prices have led demanders and suppliers alike to adapt to food shortages and abundances, to energy crises, and to weather patterns. The same will be true for global warming impacts if we let the invisible hand of the marketplace do its work.

Specifically, in the case of changing water supplies, markets have the potential to encourage adaptation if water rights are clearly defined and transferable. For decades western farmers and ranchers have transferred water rights between one another to accommodate variable stream flows. More recently, growing demands for environmental water uses such as pollution dilution or instream flows for fish and wildlife have been met through willing buyer-willing seller trades. Traditional “use it or lose it” rules are being modified to allow irrigators to transfer their rights, permanently or temporarily, to instream flows. In Idaho, for example, the 2007 legislature unanimously approved the Wood River Legacy Project, which allows ranchers to temporarily dedicate their irrigation water to instream flows without the risk of losing their diversion rights. Between 1998 and 2005, approximately 6 million acre-feet of water in the West were restored to instream flows through leasing, permanent transfers, and donations.

Where water prices signal the true scarcity value of water, people find innovative ways to conserve and trade; where prices do not reflect scarcity value, water is wasted and political battles rage. Opening markets to non-traditional environmental uses is a major step toward making prices reflect alternative values. The more that we reform legal institutions to lower the cost of water transfers from one use to another, the more we can adapt to changing demands and supplies regardless of what is causing those changes. With water markets, Mark Twain’s adage that “whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin” transforms into “water’s for tradin’ leavin’ more time for drinkin’.”

Terry Anderson Portrait

About the Author:
Terry Anderson is the Executive Director of the Property & Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through markets. Mr. Anderson is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and an economics professor (emeritus) at Montana State University and co-author of Water Markets: Priming the Invisible Pump (Cato Institute, 1997). In his “On Target” column, PERC’s executive director TERRY L. ANDERSON confronts issues surrounding free market environmentalism. Anderson can be reached at

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Causes, Drought, Energy, Fish, Hydroelectric, Other, Policies & Solutions0 Comments

Clean vs. CO2-Free

Following this brief commentary is a “letter for publication” entitled “CLEAN, SAFE SOURCES OF ELECTRICITY” received from and if you can find out what M, N, and G mean you are more observant than I. In this “letter for publication” we are provided a list of alternative energy technologies that may power the planet without combustion – photovoltaic and solar concentrator 35%, wave and tidal 31%, combined heat and power and reduced wastage 26%, and wind 26%. The perspicacious reader will note this is overkill, by 18%.

This smorgasbord of alternative energy compares to our current worldwide energy production as follows: oil 34.3%, coal 25.1%, gas 20.9%, “combustible renewables” (mostly wood) 10.6%, nuclear 6.5%, and hydro-electric power 2.2%. None of the alternatives make this list, which totals 99% of all energy produced in the world. And today, 80% of the remaining one percent is geothermal. All of the proposed alternatives, today, only produce two-tenths of one percent of all energy production on earth.

So in the letter to follow, we have a prescription for how we will take what is currently two-tenths of one percent of our worldwide energy production, and provide 200% of our worldwide energy production. If we adhere to this non-nuclear, non-hydroelectric, non-fossil fuel prescription, a 1,000x increase in alternative energy production is what we will need to accomplish, since our planet’s growing, industrializing human population will need 2x more energy even if huge efficiencies are gained.

And to build all these wind and tide emplacements, 1,000 times what we have now, how much concrete and steel would we need? Wouldn’t it be much easier and less disruptive to the environment if we simply ran diesel fuel refined from heavy oil through solid oxide fuel cells? Or what if we continued to burn fuel, but in a totally clean manner – only emitting CO2, and instead used all that concrete and steel for housing and freeways, and maybe even aqueducts and desalination plants and pumping stations to grow trees?

Implicit in this alternative energy prescription is that we must stop all burning. Civilization must stop all burning, because burning gives off CO2. But fully 90% of all energy produced by humanity requires burning, and in the short term it is impossible to eliminate burning without shutting down civilization – so we must find other ways to maintain a stable global climate. Clean burning is feasible, but eliminating all burning is not feasible without shutting down existing economies, let alone permitting economic growth. It can’t be done in the time we’ve got.

Remember that worldwide burning of fossil fuels is nothing in the grand scheme of earthly CO2 emissions – less than 3%. The rest is from nature. And today we spew far more CO2 into the air each year through rapaciously burning away – to make room for biofuel – the paltry 40% of our tropical forests that still remain. And this burning can be stopped. Global warming and climate change can be successfully addressed through massive tropical reforesting where biofuel plantations stand or are planned. What if that were all it would take? And what if nothing else would work anyway?

To their credit, the bmg.orgsters did not include biofuel on their agenda, and to their credit, they are trying to put forward an alternative. But even if our rainforests are replanted, do we really want wind generator towers and blades surveiling every landscape, menacing flying creatures? And do we really want seabeds and reefs and tidepools everywhere to sport massive underwater propeller-driven electric turbines? Aren’t the people proposing these alternatives the same folks who don’t like hydroelectric power? When all we have to do to supply energy between today and when we reach the fusion fueled, electrochemical energy economy of the future is tear up a few thousand square miles of oil sands? Sure, solar power is good, but clean fossil fuel is a realistic goal, not no fossil fuel.


Dear Editor,
Contrary to what is suggested in the new Energy White Paper, there are more than enough clean, safe sources of electricity to meet our needs and there is absolutely no need for nuclear power and all its many headaches (see

There are now several reports showing in detail how the UK can meet its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions from electricity generation, and phase out nuclear power. These can be downloaded from .

It is simply not true that “the lights will go out” without nuclear power. The British Wind Energy Association say that “the UK’s offshore resource is equivalent to three times the UK’s annual electricity consumption.”. But rather than rely on one single source of renewable electricity, there are good reasons to develop a variety of sources as described in the analysis and spreadsheet at .

In summary, UK electricity needs may be met quite comfortably, and soon, from the following renewable, carbon-free sources:
Percentage of total UK demand

Wind power (large scale) 20 (or more)
Wave power 20
Tidal currents 3
Tidal lagoons 8
Photovoltaics 20 (or more)
Micro wind power 6
Combined heat and power 16
Concentrating solar power 15
Reduced wastage 10 (or more)
Total 118

Apart from these sources, there is energy from biomass and there are plans to import geothermal electricity from Iceland (see

There is no “energy gap”, only a gap in the political will needed to bring these renewable sources of energy on stream.

Dr Gerry Wolff, +44 (0)1248 712962,
18 Penlon, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, LL59 5LR, UK.

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Nuclear, Other, Solar, Tidal, Wind0 Comments

No Posts in Category