SMOKESCREEN: Known as China’s Kuwait, Yulin is trying to wean itself away from reliance on cheap coal and move to solar and wind power.
China sees its future in green technology not just because it wants to reduce the country’s large and growing contribution to global warming, but also because switching to climate-friendly energy makes economic sense. Nowhere is this more visible than in this city bordering Inner Mongolia.
Once dominated by smokestacks spewing coal smoke, the outskirts of Yulin today has wind turbines and photovoltaic parks to take advantage of the region’s steady, year-round wind and abundant sunshine.
“Renewable energy is spreading rapidly in Shaanxi and we see a bright future for solar power,” says Liu Huaicheng, showing visitors around his Jingbian Photovoltaic Industrial Park that is spread over 825 hectares and generates 70 million kWh of electricity per year. “We have already reduced the demand of thermal power plants for coal by 22,500 tonnes per year.”
The electricity is fed into northwestern China’s grid, and the solar park hopes to produce 2 megawatts of electricity by 2020. This is part of China’s plan to raise solar power to 15 per cent of all renewable energy production.
China subsidises photovoltaic generation by buying solar power at 1 Yuan per unit, whereas the government buys coal-fired electricity at just 0.30 Yuan. Such incentives have encouraged companies in north-western China where there are more sunny days annually than elsewhere, to diversify to renewable energy as well.
In September, China joined nearly 100 countries to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement. Although its per capita carbon emission is still much lower than the United States, this was a historic turning point. China is the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide, emitting nearly 9 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas per year — more than a quarter of the global total.
Here on the ground in Yulin, the warm autumn sunshine reflects off a sea of new solar panels. The city is trying to clean up its image of being “China’s Kuwait” and also distinguish itself from the other city with the same name in southern China known for its annual dog meat festival.
“As one of the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases, it was a compulsion for China to adopt clean energy. It is now adding energy in a big way from hydro, solar and wind,” says Gyanendra Lal Pradhan of Nepal’s Federation of Nepalese Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) who visits China frequently. Foreseeing a growth in both India and China’s energy demand, Pradhan believes it is already late for Nepal to realise its own potential for hydropower and solar energy. “China’s strategy to incentivise clean energy is relevant for us in Nepal to emulate,” says Pradhan.
For Govinda Raj Pokhrel, who used to head Nepal’s Alternate Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and the National Planning Commission, the story in Nepal is of missed opportunities to tap the estimated potential of 43,000MW in hydropower. “We need to adapt success stories of countries like China in our context,” Pokhrel told us in Kathmandu.
Indeed, state-owned Shaanxi Huadian Yuheng Coal and Electricity Company now generates up to 37 per cent of its energy from wind and hydropower. “We see a future in renewable energy, but we also want to make coal and gas power cleaner and more efficient,” said Yang Xiaofei of the company.
Speaking at the Yulin International Coal and Energy Industry Expo recently, Hu Zhiqiang of the Yulin municipality said the city hoped to be self-sufficient in clean energy. “To be innovative, collaborative, environment friendly, accessible and sharable is our guideline.”
There are challenges for Yulin to wean itself away from its historical reliance on cheap coal. Despite state subsidies, the production cost of solar power is high and its gestation period, long.
Yulin is trying to also diversify its economy away from coal by promoting tourism. Says Cui Yuan of Yulin Tourism and Foreign Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau: “Our aim is to transfer our income source from being reliant on energy to tourism. It is going to be the pillar of our economy in the future.”
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