High oil prices make Asia pursue green energy
By David Fogarty
September 9, 2005
For energy-hungry Asian governments, the answer could literally be blowing in the wind.
Across the region, renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal power is gaining ever greater credence as a way to curb the region's appetite for oil and cut runaway import bills.
With oil prices near $70, and expected by many analysts to stay over $50 through the end of 2006, governments believe alternative energy will help keep their economies growing.
With a host of environmental and domestic social concerns -- and potential future international conflict -- China could be well suited to pursue renewable energy sources.
China's failed bid for American petroleum firm Unocal may prompt it to further focus on its development of alternative energy sources. The country has recently passed a renewable energy law that requires power operators to buy electricity from alternative energy producers and the government has increased spending for research on wind, solar, biofuel, and tidal technologies.
"In the next 20 years China will be building (the equivalent) of a new Shanghai each year ... we have to find a way to absorb these people in a way that doesn't bring down the planet," said Robert Watson, Director of the International Energy Project at the U.S.'s Natural Resources Defense Council.
Air pollution could be one catalyst for change, according to David Dollar, World Bank director for China.
"China has 20 of the 30 most air-polluted cities in the world, and that is primarily because of the use of coal for power generation and in industry. This imposes a very direct health cost on China," he said at an energy conference this week.
One of the world's biggest energy consumers, it already aims to get one-tenth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 but is considering setting its sights even higher.
"By 2020 renewable energy (could) account for 15 percent of energy production in China, including large-scale hydropower projects," Shi Lishan, director of renewable energy at the policy-setting National Development and Reform Commission, told the conference.
China plans to build its first offshore wind power plant next year, while Greenpeace has estimated Chinese wind power potential at 1 million megawatts (MW), more than twice China's current total installed power generating capacity of 440,700 MW.
GIVE ME STEAM
Indonesia sees power from the ground but needs investment.
"Indonesia has big geothermal reserves that can generate more than 25,000 megawatts of electricity," said an energy ministry official in Jakarta.
Director-General of Electricity, Yogo Pratomo, said the government would continue to develop renewable energy such as solar power but costs were a problem.
The Philippines, the world's second top producer of geothermal power, says high oil prices are helping the green drive.
"Indirectly, it (high oil price) has created a sense of urgency in developing renewable energy because of its growing advantage over fossil-based fuels," Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla told Reuters in a recent interview.
India, which produces only 30 percent of the oil it consumes, is encouraging power generation from renewable sources, which account for about 4 percent of its output. The country is already one of the top five wind power producers in the world.
"Renewable sources of energy was always a top priority, particularly in recent years," said a spokesman for India's ministry of non-conventional energy sources.
"The current surge in oil prices makes it all the more important that a greater impetus is given to harnessing renewable energy in a country like India," he said.
Smaller Asian nations, lacking the resources or investment to develop large-scale renewable energy projects, have devised more inventive ways to cut oil use.
Bangladesh said this week it would introduce a two-day weekend from Friday as part of an austerity drive and has ordered all public transport, including 150,000 diesel-belching buses and lorries, to use domestically produced compressed natural gas.
In Cambodia, the government has ordered ministries to cut their energy use by 10 percent, while neighboring Thailand, a net crude importer, is trying to persuade motorists and motorcyclists to switch to biofuels and domestically produced natural gas.
The government wants to reduce a ballooning oil import bill by mixing nine parts gasoline and one part ethanol -- made from sugarcane or cassava -- to produce gasohol.
Sri Lanka, which used to produce most of its electricity by hydropower, has had to turn to oil and coal to meet growth demands but aims to exploit biomass, small hydro plants, solar, sea waves and wind power to cut oil imports.
(Additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison in BEIJING, Dolly Aglay in MANILA, Himangshu Watts in NEW DELHI, Muklis Ali in JAKARTA, Serajul Islam Quadir in DHAKA, Nopporn Wong-Anan in BANGKOK, and Arjuna Wickramasinghe in COLOMBO)
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