Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Energy - China's burning ambition

/ china / energetic /

"The economic miracle that is transforming the world's most populous nation is threatened by energy shortages and rising pollution. It also risks plunging the planet's climate into chaos"... From Nature magazine a report on China's immense energy needs and what they might mean for China and the world:

China is booming, and its hunger for energy is insatiable. For its people, the dismal air quality across much of the country is a constant reminder of its reliance on coal and other dirty fuels. When Nature visited Beijing to meet the technocrats responsible for China's energy policy, the city was blanketed in acrid smog. After just a few days of stagnant weather, visibility in some districts had dropped to tens of metres. Flights were delayed and the Beijing Environmental Protection Agency advised people to stay indoors. You could almost taste the sulphur in the air.

The only good news environmentally is that the Chinese government apparently has realized that the best way to reduce energy consumption is by being more efficient and is working toward that goal...

...Another thing China is doing to feed its growing domestic demand for energy is going nuclear at a noticeable rate:

The race to build more plants resumed last year, as China struggled with blackouts amid its worst energy crisis in decades.

From the highest levels of Chinese government to the technicians running Qinshan and other plants, there is a newfound conviction that nuclear power is the most practical option for reducing the country's reliance on heavily polluting coal-fired power plants.

"Build Nuclear Power, Enrich the People,'' says a slogan on billboards throughout the sprawling facility, built into a peninsula surrounded by farms and fishing villages.

China expects the share of its power supplied by nuclear generation to grow to 4 percent by 2020 from 2.3 percent today. To meet that goal, it must build about two new facilities every year.

In very related news, China's CNOOC bid for Unocal, if it goes through (which is far from certain - although one wonders about the reaction of the freemarketeers if a third country's government blocked the acquisition of a local company by an American corporation) apart from having the effect of semi-nationalizing an American Oil company (albeit by another nation - CNOOC is state owned) certainly signals China's strategic decision to increase control over Asian oil resources - which is what Unocal has to sell since:

...Unocal has few strategic oil assets in the United States. The company, based in El Segundo, California, does not have refineries or gasoline stations, having sold them eight years ago. In fact, the real prizes more than half of Unocal's production and reserves that both Chevron and the Chinese are after lie in Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand.

"The assets involved in the Unocal transaction are not of the scale or geographic location to make them of critical importance to U.S. energy security," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy fellow at the James Baker 3rd Institute for Public Policy in Houston. "Many of the important Unocal assets are actually located in Asia, and the energy produced there would never flow to the United States"...

This is just one of the moves that China is making in the energy scene: as Manas Chakravarty in India's Business Standard writes, while discussing the world competition for resources, it's worth noting that:

CNOOC'’s bid is the latest in a series of investments made by China aimed at tying up access to oil and gas resources to feed its ravenous energy needs. Here are a few examples of China's global hunt for energy:

# In Sudan, China is the single largest shareholder in the consortium that dominates the country'’s oil industry

# In Iran, China has a 50 percent share in the Yadavaran oil field

# Sinopec has invested $1 billion in a joint venture with Petrobas for the construction of a gas pipeline that will cross the entire length of Brazil

# China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) , China'’s largest energy company, owns 60 percent of Kazakhstan's Aktobemunigaz, and plans to build a pipeline to move the Kazakh crude into western China.

... and that doesn't include the deal between Venezuela and China a few months ago, or Sinopec buying 40% of a huge tar sand field in Western Canada (that's an investment for the future - making oil from tar sands is still very expensive and very dirty BTW).

All in all between the geostrategic aspect of this and the pollution/global warming effect, it's worth paying close attention - this might be a defining and crucial issue of the 21st century.

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