Still Dirty!!!

“……………………..and yet China’s impressive, frequently astonishing growth is powered almost exclusively by non-renewable fossil fuels. A note in the brochure for the Xi’An National Civil Aerospace industrial Base says it plans “to build 6 high-temperature coal-fired boilers with total heating supply of 696 MW.” (That’s enough to power about 70,000 U.S. homes)

In economies like China’s, electricity usage rises at about 70-80 percent of the rate of the economy, so if China grows 10 percent, its need for electricity rises 7 to 8 percent. Add in the fact that China retires some dirty coal plants each year, and it needs to add a huge amount of electrical capacity just to keep up with demand. China’s electrical capacity is expected to rise about 8.8 percent in 2011 to 1050 gigawatts. And most of that growth will come from coal-fired plants, perhaps the least sustainable form of electricity generation available. Solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of China’s electricity generation. Given the pace of growth, it’s very difficult for alternative energy like wind and solar power to gain market share in China.

Then there’s the traffic — oh lord, the traffic. The process of urbanization in Xi’an is, in some ways, just beginning. And yet at rush hour it can easily take an hour to move six miles through the wide boulevards that are clogged with vehicles. There’s not a hybrid or electric vehicle in sight. Yes, oil production continues to grow. But it’s difficult to imagine it keeping pace with the rise in car sales, economic activity, and gas-sucking traffic in China.

The beeping and the braking, the chalky air, the new terminal at Xi’an’s airport, the blinking lights and the construction cranes that loom like sentries in the mist — all these are signs that China, which essentially sat out the 20th century, is finally standing up. Almost by definition, China’s rising living standards will lead to more intensive resource use. As China’s 1.3 billion people start to consume like Americans long have, we’d be well advised to figure out how to do more with less — and to read a little Malthus.” – Daniel Gross

Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance. He’s traveling in China this week under the auspices of the China U.S. Exchange Foundation