Bicycles in Beijing, China
As China races emulate the West, its planners are adopting growth policies that discourage bicycle use in favor of the car. Sights like this outside a department store in Beijing may someday become rare.

Energy Foundation Encourages Efficiency In China

An interview with Douglas Ogden, Project Director.

By Bill Moore

Headquartered on the beautiful grounds of San Francisco's Presidio, near the fabled Golden Gate Bridge is the Energy Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental philanthropic organization whose mission is to promote a wiser, more sustainable use of energy, not just in the United States, but worldwide.

For the past two years, the Foundation has administered the China Sustainable Energy Program, which is funded in the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. David Packard is the co-founder of Hewlett Packard, the computer technology giant. The family's support of the project is a result of David Packard's business and personal interests in China.

"Our mission is to assist in China's transition to a sustainable energy future by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy policy," explained Douglas Ogden, the project's director. Ogden not only oversees the project's San Francisco office, but an office in Beijing, China as well. He lived for a number of years in China in the early 1980's and has witnessed the steady environmental degradation of the nation with its rapid industrialization.

The nation's air and water pollution problems haven't gone unnoticed by the nation's leadership and according to Ogden, both the cities of Beijing and Shanghai have made significant strides in the last two years to improve their respective air qualities. However, despite its progress, Beijing especially suffers periodic episodes of choking air pollution, more than half of which is caused by motor vehicles.

One of the more recent initiatives to reduce automotive emissions is the adoption of European emissions standards. Many of the vehicles available in China are build under license from both European and American car companies, VWs, Jeep and Buicks are popular and built in China. But until recently, they were not required to have emission controls. That has now changed, Ogden reported. The Chinese are currently implementing Euro I standards and plan to move on to Euro II in the next three to four years.

For its part the China Sustainable Energy Program is funding a number of studies both in China and in the US that are looking at ways for China to improve its energy efficiency, both in the transportation sector and well as in energy production and utilization. The Project also serves as a bridge between East and West, Ogden stated.

"We serve as a bridge to the international policy community to provide best practices of other kinds of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies that have been developed in other countries, and to help bring experts from those countries to China. They then help co-author papers with Chinese energy policy experts, develop workshops, create a schedule for developing policies in China that are tailored to China's own circumstances, and then ultimately present these policy recommendations to China's government decision makers."

China: A Nation With A Plan

According to Douglas Ogden, 78% of China's electricity comes from the burning of coal. So, we asked him what the nation was doing to improve the efficiency of its fossil fuel generation system and/or shift to cleaner, less polluting fuels and sources.

He said that China has had an official energy efficiency policy in place since the early 1980s and that policy has been an integral part of every Five Year Plan since then. The 10th Five Year Plan, which was adapted last April, has set as its goal a 2.5% increase in "energy intensity" yearly until 2010. Ogden explained that energy intensity is, "the amount of energy required to produce a dollar of economic output." He added that the leadership has set a target for the nation that by 2050 it will be 100% more efficient than the average developed country today.

"More than any other developing country today, China has adopted energy efficiency as its center piece."

China did this because it realized, Ogden elaborated, that it couldn't afford to achieve its four major modernization goals of quadrupling its economic output in agriculture, manufacturing, science & technology and the military by 2000.

"In 1980, they looked at the energy requirements for accomplishing the four modernizations and realized that they just could not do it with the amount of available capital without having to sell off the entire electricity sector to the West or borrow too heavily from other sectors to make reaching the four modernizations possible."

Ogden said that because China already has an infrastructure and decision making process in place that appreciates the need for energy efficiency, it makes his job much easier.

"It's a real pleasure to work with the Chinese because we don't have to convince them about the wisdom of energy efficiency and renewable energy."

China: Risks Repeating the West's Mistakes?

In addition to its efforts to clean up the emissions of its burgeoning fleet of private and government owned motor vehicles by the adoption of Euro I and Euro II emission standards, China also has allocated US$10 million for alternative vehicles R&D with the focus on hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles.

"China has a fairly robust fuel cell R&D effort underway in a number of its major universities," Ogden stated. "They've been interested in fuel cells for a couple decades. They're focusing on moving to the next step of bringing fuel cells into vehicle technology."

But for all China's interest in cleaner vehicle technology, they appear headed down the same culdesac as the West with an economy increasingly shaped by the private motor vehicle.

"I think there is a real risk of China repeating the mistakes of the West," Ogden said. "And transportation system planning and reform is critically important. In the cities they have made substantial progress on air quality but traffic is worse. It's worse due to ring road planning and they are no longer encouraging works to live at the work site. So, the Chinese are becoming car dependent and the automobile has been designated a key industry for China's economic growth and development. And bicycles now are being actively discouraged in China's transportation system planning."

"Urban planners are planning for cars and not for serving the public good or moving people most efficiently and effectively. They need to focus on efficient bus fleets and we're encouraging a bus fleet based on the hybrid-(electric) platform similar to the systems in Curitiba, Brazil that moves people at 3% of the cost of a subway system."

"That said, Beijing sees itself as China's most important city, its showcase city and it is developing a system of subways. Nevertheless, people are moving out of the inner city. They are moving out into cheaper areas. The automobile is coming in reach economically for individuals and families which have received higher education and are pushing for their economic advancement."

Ogden explained that Chinese officials have traveled extensively in the West and noted the central role that automobile plays in the economy of the West and they want to emulate that.

"They go down a main street in the United States and they see how many businesses are affiliated with the production of automobiles, tire manufacturers, parts stores, mufflers and so on and that kind of vision is becoming the same vision in China. It is a solid concern."

"We're trying to encourage a more balanced, multi-modal transportation approach." Because of budgetary constraints, the Foundation is focusing in on ways to reduce emissions, as well as encouraging a leap-frog approach to the very cleanest vehicle technologies, one that would "move past the internal combustion engine phase and straight to hybrid-drive and eventually fuel cells."

He added that if the Project had the resources it would also tackle the systems planning approach with China."


Times Article Viewed: 4641
Published: 13-May-2001


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