Energy efficiency key for China’s ecological goals

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/12 21:58:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

China will step up reforms "of the system for developing an ecological civilization," an important point raised in the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. This is of pivotal significance for green growth. To proceed with ecologically conscious development, the country needs to put a ceiling on the use of resources, set minimum environmental quality requirements, draw an uncrossable "red line" for environmental protection, and put in place a baseline for energy safety. Such efforts will be the mainstays of the nation's ecological civilization push.

The contradiction between limited resources and ballooning demand has become increasingly prominent. Both tangible resources and intangible resources such as space exploration and communication channels are limited. China has therefore proposed using resources in a non-free way. The costs of resource usage need to be measured, both in economic and social terms. A circular economy should be advocated to improve the efficiency of use of resources and China is striving to put in place rules and policy guidelines to help with this. 

Pollution has had a big impact on people's lives in recent years and there is growing awareness about environmental problems that are not easy to solve. China still has to undertake wide-ranging efforts to address environmental problems. As well as air pollution, water and soil pollution need to be dealt with, as does solid waste. Our next task is to find a solution for these problems and to create a beautiful environment in a short period of time.

The annual Central Economic Work Conference in December gave an outline of the "three tough battles" for the economy: preventing risks in the financial system, reducing poverty, and tackling pollution, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The country could consider a wide range of measures to control pollution, including setting higher pollution discharge standards, creating an environmental credit rating system, levying hefty penalties on polluters and strengthening public supervision.  

China has in recent years built ecological function zones, implemented ecological compensation and carried out ecological projects, but the country still needs to increase its efforts. Items on the to-do list to protect the country's ecosystem include enhancing wetlands protection, minimizing the effects of geological hazards, and establishing a market-oriented and diversified ecological compensation mechanism.

On top of that, the economy's green push puts energy in focus. The country will "spur the development of energy-saving and environmental protection industries as well as clean production and clean-energy industries," according to the 19th Party Congress report. It will also "promote a revolution in energy production and consumption, and build an energy sector that is clean, low-carbon, safe, and efficient."

It's fair to say that solving energy problems will involve controlling carbon dioxide emissions and fostering low-carbon development. This means the low-carbon drive is the main component of the energy revolution.

Several specific problems ought to be addressed to foster low-carbon development. 

First, the country should build a new energy system that stimulates distributed renewable energy generation.

Second, the technological system needs a makeover. Along the path to developing renewable energy, efforts are required to address some substantial problems with renewable energy technologies such as power generation efficiency, electricity storage, and stable electricity supplies. Therefore, microgrids, regional grids and renewable energy storage are seen as the next trends that still require technological advances.

Third, the nation needs to ensure energy security. Coal has long been the main energy source for China. Natural gas and oil can help diversify China's energy portfolio, but the nation's gas and oil reserves don't give it a sufficient cushion.

Developing renewable energy is seen as a way out, but this will take some time. It is anticipated that renewables as a percentage of the country's total energy consumption could increase substantially, thus ensuring long-term energy security. 

Fourth, China's energy consumption per unit of GDP is still much higher than the world's average, and well above the levels in the US and Japan, an indication that China still reaps primarily the low-hanging fruit of the global manufacturing sector. A shift away from the status quo will require efforts to increase the efficiency of energy utilization.

If all these efforts succeed, the Chinese economy will evolve into an ecological civilization.

The article was compiled based on a speech by Liu Yanhua, counselor of the State Council and former vice minister of Science and Technology, at the Volvo Group Sustainability Forum in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province earlier in February.

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