Choke Point: China

Double Choke Point: Demand for Energy Tests Water Supply and Economic Stability in China and the U.S.

The cords of energy demand and water supply are tightening around the world’s two largest economies.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

The coal mines of Inner Mongolia, China and the oil and gas fields of the northern Great Plains in the United States are separated by 11,200 kilometers (7,000 miles) of ocean and 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) of land.

But, in form and function, the two fossil fuel development zones — the newest and largest in both nations — are illustrations of the escalating clash between energy demand and freshwater supplies that confront the stability of the world’s two biggest economies. How each nation responds could have profound implications for their domestic energy and food markets, and for economic stability across the globe.

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04:07 pm by csrwiretalkback[8 notes]

Circle of Blue’s China Tour Finds Strong Reception for Water-Energy Choke Point Warning

Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum present at 17 events in four cities over 16 days.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Since mid-February, in probing weekly reports from our Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue and the China Environment Forum of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars have for the first time revealed the increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress.

In late March, the two organizations arrived in Beijing for the start of a 16-day trip that took three reporters from Circle of Blue and two researchers from the China Environment Forum to Beijing and Shanghai in eastern China and then to Chengdu and Yinchuan, in the nation’s south and west. The tour, supported by the Energy Foundation and Vermont Law School, also included Adam Moser, the China Environment Fellow at Vermont Law School, who joined us at events in Beijing and Shanghai.

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08:24 pm by csrwiretalkback[5 notes]

Water Pipeline Could Open China’s Northern Coal Fields

Proposed long-distance desalination project seen as a must for modernization.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Sixty-year-old geographer Huo Youguang, a professor in the Center for Environment and Modern Agriculture Engineering at Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xhanxi Province, thinks he has a solution for China’s geographic mismatch: drop a pipe into the Bohai Sea, draw more than 340,000 cubic meters (90 million gallons) of seawater a day into a complex of coastal desalination plants, and then pump it 1,400 meters uphill for more than 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) to Xilinhot, where it will be used for coal mining operations.

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01:47 pm by csrwiretalkback[13 notes]

China’s Mammoth Plan to Double Hydropower Generation by 2020

Water-rich southwest region, though, is getting dryer.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Rachel Beitarie, Circle of Blue

The hydropower dam construction program in southwest China has no equal anywhere in the world.

Here in Suijiang County, a remote and mountainous region on the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, the immense scope of the most aggressive dam-building program in history is immediately apparent. Near the county’s center, an army of men and equipment is building the Xiangjiaba Hydropower Dam, a wall of concrete and steel 909 meters (2,982 feet) long and 161 meters (528 feet) high. When it’s completed in 2015, the dam will house eight turbines capable of generating just over 6,400 megawatts. It will be the fourth-largest hydropower plant in China and one of the 20 largest power plants of any kind in the world, according to industry figures.

Immense as it is, the Xiangjiaba Dam is just one of a dozen hydropower projects of similar size that have been approved for the Jinsha River. Taken together, the 12 Jinsha River dams will be capable of generating 59,000 megawatts, or nearly as much power as all 4,000 hydroelectric generating stations in thee United States.

In the latest chapter of Circle of Blue’s Choke Point: China series, Beijing-based Rachel Beitarie writes about China’s mammoth program to, by 2020, double the amount of electricity produced from flowing water, as well as the consequences this program is having on communities, families and the environment. Along the upper Yangtze River and five tributaries that drain China’s midsection, 100 big dams are in various stages of planning, engineering and construction. Additionally, at least 43 big dams are in the same stages of development on the Lancang, Nujiang, Hongshui and Jiulong rivers in southwest China.

Big Risk, Big Reward

The stakes for China’s dam-building campaign encompass every sector of the economy, and it marks a historical and ecological heritage that spans seven southern provinces. The provincial and central government leaders who support China’s program to tame wild rivers behind concrete, steel and stone assert hydropower provides considerable benefits to reduce air pollution, rein in coal consumption and generate electricity for fast-growing cities and industries.

Opponents say dams are wrecking treasured canyons, ruining fisheries and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Some critics worry too many of China’s new big dams are being built in a seismically active region that has experienced a number of big earthquakes, including one in May 2008 that killed 80,000 people in Sichuan Province. Just as significantly, opponents note China is counting on generating a considerable portion of its energy from rivers in southern China that, because of climate change, say scientists, are experiencing longer and more numerous droughts that are lowering water levels.

Read more about China’s hydropower development on Circle of Blue.

About Rachel Beitarie

Rachel is a Beijing-based Israeli reporter. This is her article for Circle of Blue.

For Circle of Blue’s complete coverage of China’s water-energy challenge, check out the Choke Point: China page on Circle of Blue.

Photographs by Toby Smith/Reportage by Getty Images for Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Will this big risk reap big rewards - or will Mother Nature root against China’s ambitious hydropower development? Dive in and share on Talkback!

07:31 pm by csrwiretalkback[32 notes]

China Responds to Explosive Growth, Pollution and Water Scarcity in Latest Five-Year Plan

Is momentum for runaway development too powerful to restrain?

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider and Nadya Ivanova, Circle of Blue

In an era of economic turmoil that has produced massive unemployment, accelerated industrial decline and sowed fear and doubt across much of North America and Europe, China last week offered a much different lesson on growth and development.

In the latest draft of its new 12th Five-Year Plan to manage the world’s fastest growing industrial economy, China’s leadership called for restraining runaway growth that is raising incomes of more than 400 million people, but is also drawing China ever closer to a potentially calamitous confrontation over energy, water and the quality of the nation’s environment.

As part of its Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue this week describes in detail the 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets a new limit on energy consumption in order to spur efficiency and conservation measures. But the plan also envisions record high levels of water use, which is expected to rise to 620 billion cubic meters (163 trillion gallons) by 2015 — up from 599 billion cubic meters (158 trillion gallons) in 2010 — and as much as 670 billion cubic meters (177 trillion gallons) by the end of the decade. The restraints on coal production, which supplies 70 percent of the nation’s energy and is the largest industrial consumer of fresh water, will serve to keep water use from climbing even higher.

Largest and Fastest — Is Restraint Possible?

But it is not at all clear China’s provincial and industrial leaders — never mind the hundreds of millions of workers benefiting from modernization — will be eager to comply with the goals of the new development strategy.

During extensive reporting in December for the Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue found a nation that grumbles about pollution, inflation and corruption, but also is tremendously enthusiastic about modernization and the economic opportunities it has provided.

The restraints on economic growth described in the 12th Five-Year Plan come in the midst of a massive and politically popular economic transition that is rapidly converting China’s economy from its previous focus on export-related revenue to one devoted to building domestic markets.

Just to name a few, China now has either the fastest growing or largest markets in the world for:

  • Cars
  • Steel
  • Cement
  • Glass
  • Residential housing
  • Rail construction
  • Fossil fuel energy
  • Highway development
  • Power plant construction
  • Grain production

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Photo: © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Will momentum for runaway development be too powerful to restrain? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

04:31 pm by csrwiretalkback[5 notes]

Water rights transfers and high-tech power plants hold off energy-water clash in northern China

China acts on looming crisis with ambitious water conservation and transfer program.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Nadya Ivanova, Circle of Blue

On a flat and desolate expanse of alkaline desert along the Yellow River in northern China, a mammoth new industrial model to generate energy and save water is rapidly taking shape. The Ningdong Energy and Heavy Chemical Industry Base, as it is called, is a bustling Lego set of energy infrastructure. Bulldozers, workers and cranes snap together standardized parts, churning out colossal cooling towers, candy-striped chimneys and stick-figure transmission towers and lines for the world’s most advanced coal-fired power plants, coal-to-chemical refineries and coal mines.

The phalanx of energy installations, with mines and roads spanning nearly 3,500 square kilometers, takes advantage of two vital resources: a coal reserve underneath the base - China’s sixth largest reserve - and a ready source of water in the Yellow River 35 kilometers away.

In the fourth chapter of its Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue focuses on China’s capacity and modernization program to fuel itself with coal without running out of water.

Since 2003, when it was launched, the Ningdong energy base has been at the center of China’s plan to consolidate its primary energy-producing sector, building coal-to-chemical refineries and coal-fired power plants in closer proximity to the coal mines in its northern and northwestern regions.

Ningdong also takes advantage of an ambitious water conservation and transfer program that requires new industries in the northwestern region of Ningxia to invest in lining and repairing irrigation canals in exchange for the right to use Yellow River water. The upgrade annually saves millions of cubic meters (billions of gallons) of agricultural water that then get transferred to power plants in the province.

A similar program has been operating in Inner Mongolia, the largest coal-producer in China. Between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, the water conservation program has saved about 300 million cubic meters since 2005. And, experts say, it’s part of China’s effort to hold off a looming confrontation between its scarce water reserves and growing coal-based industrial sector, and ensure that it can continue to be the fastest growing economy in the world.

It also signals unprecedented changes in China’s water management that are seen by government and industry leaders as essential to solving some of the critical water stresses in the north.

About Nadya Ivanova

Nadya, who has reported from China, Europe and the United States, is a reporter and producer for Circle of Blue. Since 2006, she has been traveling back and forth between her native Bulgaria and Chicago, where studied journalism and International Studies at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Before joining Circle of Blue, Nadya interned at bTV, the major national TV channel of Bulgaria. She is one of the winners of the European Young Journalist Award 2009.

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Photo: © Aaron Jaffe/Circle of Blue

Talkback Readers: Is China’s agriculture-to-industry water transfer program ‘liquid’ enough to solve some of the critical water stresses in the north? Tell us on Talkback!

04:34 pm by csrwiretalkback[12 notes]

A Dry and Anxious North Awaits China’s Giant Water Transport Scheme

Authorities anticipate approval for new western line to tap energy reserves.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Aaron Jaffe and Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Talk about the mother of all water projects. In 2014 some 9.6 billion cubic meters of water a year (2.5 trillion gallons) will pour through the immense tunnels under construction in Henan Province in northern China, and be sent north to help curb water shortages in more than a dozen cities, including Beijing.

A second line of China’s South-North Water Transfer Project should already be operating by then, transporting 14.8 billion cubic meters of water annually from the lower Yangtze River to Tianjin.

And this month, in its new 12th Five-Year Plan, the official guide to national development, China is expected to approve construction planning for a third “western” line, according to interviews Circle of Blue conducted with several authorities close to the project. The western line will transport 8 billion more cubic meters of water annually from the Himalayan region in the west to supply the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River in the north.

Taken together, reports Circle of Blue in the latest chapter of its Choke Point: China series, the three lines of the South-North Water Project are an audacious strategy to solve a commanding threat to China’s modernization: the increasingly dire confrontation between rising energy demand in a nation that is steadily getting drier. China’s plan is to eventually remove 36 billion cubic meters of water every year (9.5 trillion gallons) from the Yangtze River Basin, which drains much of the nation’s central and western regions, and ship it north. That is tantamount to reversing the flow of the Missouri River, which drains the Great Plains and part of the Northwest in the United States, and sending it back to Montana.

It’s no surprise ever since construction began in 2002, the South-North Water Project has generated a strong current of public comment. China’s government authorities insist the project, now estimated to cost $US 62 billion, is essential to developing cities and energy-rich provinces of northern and western China, the fastest growing regions in the country, which are running out of water.

"Transferring water from the south to north makes perfect sense," said Wang Hao, director of the Water Resources Department at the state-run China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research in Beijing, and one of China’s most influential government water scientists.

Wei Zhimin, a water expert in Hebei Province within a unit of the Ministry of Water Resources, said last year in an interview with Xiaoxiang Evening News that the South-North Project would not solve north China’s water crisis, but was nevertheless essential.

"Lifeline is one word to describe it," Wei said. "And by lifeline I mean a lifeline for north China, Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei included."

But the project’s critics - among them academics, economists and environmental leaders - assert that the magnitude and cost of building and operating the continental water transport system would produce a cascade of unintended consequences that could overwhelm benefits to China.

These consequences include much higher municipal, agricultural and industrial water prices, damage to aquatic environments, more treatment facilities for Yangtze water that is currently too polluted to use and continuing water shortages in northern China, and possibly in southern China, too. Most importantly, reports Circle of Blue, water from the South-North project won’t relieve the serious choke point that’s developed in the northern coal-rich provinces where China can’t tap new reserves because of ongoing water scarcity.

"We should take no pride in doing such a project," said Ma Jun, an author and director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organization in Beijing. “This is a moment for us, a sobering moment for us, to reflect upon how we drove ourselves to such a situation.”

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Talkback Readers: Will Chinese authorities, led by Ma Jun’s example, take time to reflect on their country’s water crisis? Or will the South-North Water Project scorch any sustainability measures? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

06:12 pm by csrwiretalkback[16 notes]

New Wind and Solar Sectors Won’t Solve China’s Water Scarcity

Clean alternatives help, but not nearly enough, to loosen energy-water choke point.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Business for wind and solar energy components has been so brisk in Gansu Province - a bone-bleaching sweep of gusty desert and sun-washed mountains in China’s northern region - that the New Energy Equipment Manufacturing Industry base, which employs 20,000 people, is a 24/7 operation.

Just two years old, the expansive industrial manufacturing zone - located outside this ancient Silk Road city of 1 million - turns out turbines, blades, towers, controllers, software and dozens of other components for a provincial wind industry already capable of generating more than 5,000 megawatts per year.

This region of dust and industrial innovation - about as far west from Beijing as Montana is from New York - has very quickly become a vital booster stage in China’s rocket ride to the top of the global water-sipping clean energy heap. Prompted by a national decision in 2005 to diversify the nation’s energy production portfolio, and to do so with the goal of reducing water consumption and climate-changing carbon emissions, Gansu and its desert neighbors are pursuing clean energy development with a ferocity unrivaled now in the world.

Along with northern Gansu, there are six other wind energy zones and eight solar power bases being built in China — most of them in the desert regions of northern and western China. China also has a burst of seawater-cooled nuclear power plants under construction along its eastern coast.

China’s National Energy Administration projects that, over the next decade, generating capacity from wind, solar and nuclear power will more than quadruple, from 53 gigawatts in 2010 to 230 gigawatts in 2020.

Yet China’s demand for electricity is rising so quickly the massive investment in new generating technologies will not make nearly as large a dent in energy production - or in freshwater conservation - as many people might expect.

The new wind, solar and seawater-cooled nuclear plants will replace roughly 100 big coal-fired generating stations, which equates to a savings of 3.5 billion cubic meters (nearly one trillion gallons) of water annually, according to academic and government estimates. The clean energy stations also will eliminate around 750 million metric tons of climate-changing emissions annually.

But China’s national water use - 591 billion cubic meters in 2010 - is anticipated to grow by 40 billion cubic meters annually by the end of the decade. And the increase in water use, a good portion of which is spurred by new coal production, is occurring in a nation that is steadily getting drier.

Put another way, according to the second chapter of Circle of Blue’s Choke Point: China series, the $US 738 billion that government authorities promised last year to spend on non-fossil fuel power generation over the next decade will jump start China’s clean energy economic transition. But clean energy development, according to the Circle of Blue report released this week, will not solve a commanding threat to China’s modernization — the confrontation between rising energy demand and declining reserves of fresh water. Over the next decade, and likely well beyond, the water savings from solar, wind and seawater-cooled nuclear power will not be nearly enough to loosen the noose water scarcity is steadily tightening around China’s coal production and combustion sector, and its national economy.

"There may be an ultimate day of reckoning approaching," said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow and China specialist at the Peterson Institute in Washington D.C. “But there are a lot of intermediate steps China is prepared to take and already is taking to hold it off as long as possible.”

About Keith Schneider

Keith Schneider, who has reported on energy, water, and climate change from four continents, is senior editor for Circle of Blue. Reach him at keith@circleofblue.org.

Read more of the Choke Point: China series at Circle of Blue.

Talkback Readers: Is China’s clean tech revolution really ‘clean tech?’ Weigh in on Talkback!

07:03 pm by csrwiretalkback[14 notes]

Choke Point: China - Confronting Water Scarcity and Energy Demand in the World’s Fastest Growing Industrial Economy

Exploring an escalating confrontation over resources with global implications.

Originally posted on the CSRwire website.

By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

Water scarcity, rapid economic growth and soaring energy demand are forming a tightening noose that could choke off China’s modernization.

Underlying China’s new standing in the world, like a tectonic fault line, is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress. Simply put, say Chinese authorities and government reports, China’s demand for energy, particularly for coal, is outpacing its freshwater supply.

In a dozen chapters - starting this week with updates posted weekly through April - Choke Point: China reports in text, photographs and interactive graphics the powerful evidence of the fierce contest between growth, water and fuel that is virtually certain to grow more dire over the next decade.

Tight supplies of fresh water are nothing new in a nation where 80 percent of the rainfall and snowmelt occurs in the south, while just 20 percent of the moisture occurs in the mostly desert regions of the north and west. What’s new is China’s surging economic growth is prompting the expanding industrial sector, which consumes 70 percent of the nation’s energy, to call on the government to tap new energy supplies, particularly the enormous reserves of coal in the dry north.

The problem, scholars and government officials told us, is there is not enough water to mine, process and consume those reserves and still develop the modern cities and manufacturing centers China envisions for the region. “Water shortage is the most important challenge to China right now, the biggest problem for future growth,” said Wang Yahua, deputy director of the Center for China Study at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “It’s a puzzle that the country has to solve.”

The consequences of diminishing water reserves and rising energy demand have been a special focus of our attention for more than a year. In 2010, in our Choke Point: U.S. series, Circle of Blue found rising energy demand and diminishing freshwater reserves are two trends moving in opposing directions across America. Moreover, the speed and force of the confrontation is occurring in the places where growth is highest and water resources are under the most stress - California, the Southwest, Rocky Mountain West, and Southeast.

Stripped to its essence, China’s globally significant choke point is caused by three converging trends:

  • Production and consumption of coal - the largest industrial consumer of water - has tripled since 2000. Government analysts project China’s energy companies will need to increase coal production by 30 percent by 2020.

  • Fresh water needed for mining, processing and consuming coal accounts for the largest share of China’s industrial water use, a fifth of all the water consumed nationally. Though national conservation policies have helped to limit increases, water consumption, nevertheless, has climbed to record highs.

  • China’s total water resource, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, has dropped 13 percent since the start of the century. In other words China’s water supply is 350 billion cubic meters (93 trillion gallons) less than it was at the start of the century. That’s as much water lost to China each year as flows through the mouth of the Mississippi River in nine months. Chinese climatologists and hydrologists attribute much of the drop to climate change, which is disrupting patterns of rain and snowfall.

Choke Point: China, though, is not necessarily a story of doom.

We found a powerful narrative in China in two parts, and never before told: first is how effectively national and provincial governments enacted and enforced a range of water conservation and efficiency measures that enabled China to progress as far as it has.

Second is that despite the extensive efforts to conserve water, and to develop water-sipping alternatives like wind and solar energy, China still faces an enormous projected shortfall of water this decade to its energy-rich northern and western provinces. How government and industry leaders respond to this critical and unyielding choke point forms the central story line of the next era of China’s unfolding development.

About Keith Schneider

As Senior Editor, Keith manages the Circle of Blue news desk and participates in multimedia story development reporting, editing and production. He is a nationally-known journalist, online communications specialist and environmental policy expert. Keith was a New York Times national correspondent for over a decade, where he continues to report as a special writer on energy, real estate, business and technology. Before joining Circle of Blue, Keith was media and communications director at the US Climate Action Network and communications director at the Apollo Alliance. Keith developed one of the first independent online news desks as the founder and executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. A sought-after public speaker on the role of original reporting and online communications in the public interest, Keith is a regular contributor to the Times, Yale Environment 360, Grist Magazine and other prominent news organizations. You can read his personal website at Modeshift.org.

Talkback Readers: As energy demand and freshwater reserves continue to move to opposite directions, what steps can China take to minimize its environmental impact? Tell us on Talkback!

04:23 pm by csrwiretalkback[7 notes]



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