Business / Green Companies

Renewable energy riding high

By Meng Jing and Liu Yiyu (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-25 10:29

Banking on hydropower

Hydropower is the world's largest source of renewable energy. China has been busy harnessing its power, with 17 percent of its 2010 electricity requirement coming from hydropower sources.

Though development of large hydropower projects in China has slowed considerably because of greater awareness of ecological and social factors, experts still say that it is the most mature and cheapest source of renewable energy.

Pichler Heinz, the China manager of Andritz Hydro, part of the Andritz Group, one of the world's largest suppliers of equipment for hydropower plants, said that although business has not lived up to expectations, the company has no plans to move out of China as it believes there is still huge untapped potential. On the contrary, Heinz said, Andritz plans to invest more in its manufacturing partner in Sichuan province for an additional manufacturing joint venture.

"China's hydropower had an installed capacity of 216 gW in 2010. I believe the same amount is still available to be developed. The potential is huge," Heinz said.

In 2010, China set the goal of reaching 300 gW of installed hydropower capacity by 2015, which will be raised to 330 gW by 2020.

In a hydropower report released by Deutsche Bank Group in late October 2011, China's installed hydropower capacity is expected to exceed the governmental goal of 330 gW to 348 gW by 2020.

Martin Andrae, president and CEO of Voith Hydro Shanghai, a joint venture between the world's leading hydropower equipment provider Voith Group and Shanghai Electronic Corp, said that there is a tremendous demand for electricity in China to support growth and eliminate power shortages. But the country needs to generate energy in a green manner.

"Hydropower is one of the most effective approaches for China to achieve its goal of cutting carbon emissions. Last summer, China faced shortages of around 30 gW in the State Grid and of about 10 gW in China Southern Power Grid," Andrae said, adding that hydro plants have great durability. "If maintained well, they can be operational for 60 to 90 years, whereas wind-power installations average 20 to 25 years and thermal plants 35 to 40 years," he said.

"Our research shows that in the first half of 2011, China's investment in hydropower plants was nearly the same as that of Switzerland, a tiny country," Heinz said.

Statistics from the China Electricity Council show that the country's installed hydropower capacity was around 12.25 gW in 2011, significant growth from previous years but still lagging behind the schedule of an average new installation of 15.4 gW per year between 2011 and 2015.

Nuclear future

Like hydropower, nuclear energy is a prominent source of clean energy and accounts for nearly 13.8 percent of global electricity requirements. In China, the government is likely to set a target of generating 70-80 gW of its electricity needs from nuclear power by 2020.

Like many nuclear-equipment manufacturers, Jiangsu-based Shentong Valve Co Ltd is anticipating a huge increase in orders this year, boosted by expectations that China will resume approvals for new nuclear projects soon.

The valve maker has been the only supplier of butterfly and ball valves - key components in nuclear reactors - for new reactors since 2008.

"We expect to receive new orders worth 150 million yuan if at least four reactors are built each year," said Zhang Qiqiang, secretary to the chairman of Shentong Valve.

China recently upgraded its safety standards on nuclear power projects according to the finalized Nuclear Safety Plan currently awaiting approval from the State Council, the Chinese cabinet. It is widely believed that China will adopt third-generation technology in all plants, including the AP 1000 developed by the US company Westinghouse Electric Co and EPR developed by Areva SA of France.

Industry analysts estimate that the new nuclear project approvals will create a market worth 300 billion yuan in the next five years.

Despite a freeze in the industry after the nuclear accident in Japan last year, investment in the sector grew by 26 percent during the first 10 months of 2011, according to estimates from the China Electricity Council.

Clean coal on fire

Although China is taking steps to "decarbonize" itself, this does not mean the end of the road for companies in the conventional energy sector, such as coal. In fact, companies such as LP Amina are expanding their operations in China in a big way to ride the clean-energy wave.

"One of the major challenges we have in China is to cope with fast market growth," says Latta, adding he is expecting a boom in business in China. LP Amina, which was established in the US in 2007, started its Chinese operations in 2008 after witnessing strong demand for pollution-reduction techniques at coal-fired power stations.

Latta said that using LP Amina's clean-coal technology, coal-fired power plants can not only reduce up to 95 percent of nitrogen oxide from the baseline but also improve energy efficiency. "We are one of the few companies in the world that can combine emissions reduction with improved energy efficiency simultaneously," he said.

For its first few projects in China, LP Amina took the initiative of finding coal-fired plants interested in the technology. "Things have changed now as more people are coming to us. Our name is invariably mentioned for new projects," Latta said. The company finished its first project in 2009, has so far completed 11, and is currently working on 100 projects across China.

Apart from the advanced technologies, Latta attributes his company's success in China to the country's booming market for clean coal. According to Latta, his company's business in the US is fairly stable, because the desire to deploy cutting-edge technology among his home country's coal-fired power plants, all built about 40 years ago, is not that strong.

"But in China, nitrogen-oxide control is the main target in the government's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15). The market is booming and that is why we are expanding," he said.

According to the plan, China is aiming to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and ammonia nitrogen by 10 percent below 2010 levels, and to cut demand for sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen by 8 percent between 2011 and 2015, all of which is expected to create a market worth $30 billion.

Latta said he doesn't think the market can be as big as $30 billion. "But it can be $20 billion at least. Even if we capture 3 percent of it, it will be huge," he said.

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