The devastating coal mine explosion earlier this week in China’s Shanxi province that claimed 105 lives has served as a grim reminder of the heavy costs of China’s reliance on coal as an energy source. 70% of China’s electricity is generated from coal. Economic growth has spurred demand for the dirty resource, with an average of a new coal plant a week coming online onto China’s electricity grid. To feed the insatiable appetite of the hungry coal plants, coal mines have been unable to spring up fast enough and many circumvent safety regulations and operate illegally without the necessary permits.
Source: People’s Daily Online
Taking a break from the world’s most dangerous job
Indeed, although China has the third largest reserves of coal (12.6% of the world’s share), it has become a net exporter of coal (the government is encouraging its coal mining enterprises to look overseas for expansion). Almost two years ago, Beijing launched a series of coal mining reforms that they have continued to update and tighten to enhance the safety and environmental aspects of “the world’s most dangerous job.” It is obvious from the Shanxi disaster that full reforms will not happen overnight.
Increasing Coal Use Efficiency
There are no quick or obvious solutions, but because the life cycle of coal plants can be as long as 50 or 60 years, it is imperative that the cleanest possible technologies be installed in coal plants now. Cogeneration (or combined heat and power, or CHP) is one strategy. Whereas conventional power plants produce heat as a byproduct that goes unused, cogeneration channels the heat for domestic and industrial heating purposes, displacing additional fuel consumption (including coal) that would have been needed to fulfill such heating needs. In China, Hong Kong headquartered GCL-Poly Energy operates or owns twenty or so cogeneration power plants, including six coal-fired power plants, and recently concluded a highly successful IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Another Chinese company making news in the investment community is Beijing Shenwu Thermal Technology, which manufactures equipment such as regenerative combustion furnaces (based on its proprietary high temperature air combustion (HTAC) technology) that reduces fossil fuel consmption and carbon emissions in various heavy industries. Shenwu is the first Chinese company to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, the voluntary carbon emissions market in the U.S. and is on the World Resource Institute’s list of sustainable “New Ventures.”
In other news, there is some controversy over a coal power company’s promise to go green in Hong Kong.