China has been lauded for an aggressive renewable policy, particularly for wind turbines. When you next hear praise for this policy, consider the example of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in Mid-China. There are wind turbines being developed here, but only in the context of massive industrial development. That primary motive for the industrial development in this area is coal. For instance
Sun Mountain has something China needs very badly to feed the thundering beast of its economy: 14.6 billion tons of coal reserves lying under its rocky, arid desert. There are also 5 billion tons of limestone, nearly 2 billion tons of dolomite, and – a modern touch this – 300 days of wind power per year. But there is no doubt that King Coal, a tyrannical monarch who has devoured land and lives in Ningxia for the past 50 years, rules Sun Mountain. If China is to quench its thirst for electricity and industrial chemicals the old king will be on the throne for many years to come.
The scale of the development is seen from another, 2008, article.
Shenhua Ningxia Coal Industry Company….. has begun construction of a 1000 square kilometer coal-chemical complex in northwest China’s Ningxia province. The 280 billion yuan (40 billion USD) project, located at Ningdong, 42 kilometers southeast of provincial capital, Yinchuan, will include coal production, electricity generation and coal chemicals, including coal to liquid fuel conversion (CTL). (Italics mine)
The coal will be partly used for power generation.
By the time the base is fully operational in 2020 it will have eight power plants with a capacity of 30 million KW.
That is eight power plants in one small region, each bigger than anything in Britain. But why develop coal to liquid fuel conversion?
With China’s crude oil imports rising 12.3 percent to 163.17 million tons in 2007, and the price of oil reaching $140 a barrel in 2008, one of the most keenly watched facilities in the Ningdong base will be its coal to oil conversion plants.
As of 2013, one of these plants is already in operation, and should be producing the equivalent of 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) if the mid-2006 forecasts were correct. The other is being constructed, with a capacity of over 90,000 bpd. Although these two plants will only provide the equivalent of 4% of the 163.17 million tonnes imported in 2007, China has huge reserves of coal. Further, Ningxia is one of just 30 main coal producing areas.
This 2008 article admits to drawbacks of CTL.
Coal liquefaction projects have many drawbacks from the point of view of the environment and resource conservation. Firstly they consume vast amounts of water, which is a huge concern in China’s dry northwest. Fifty-seven percent of the land area of Ningxia is desert. The Ningdong coal-chemical base will draw 100 million tons of water from the Yellow river every year. Secondly, the process of liquefying coal emits much more carbon dioxide than conventional coal fired power stations. When fully operational, the Ningdong base will discharge 80,000 cubic meters of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) per day …….. Finally, while liquefied coal fuels provide an alternative to crude oil, they are not necessarily an efficient use of coal. It takes four to five tons of coal to produce one ton of oil, so coal to oil projects deplete coal reserves much more rapidly than conventional coal power generation.
Therefore, China’s rush into renewables should be seen as just a small part of the general industrialisation of China, whilst minimising dependence on external energy sources. The eco-image, such as support for Earth Day and Kite Tournaments is just to keep the environmentalists from trying to sabotage China’s rush to western levels of prosperity for 1300 million people.