China to train developing nations in solar technologies
August 26, 2004 10:50 PM   Subscribe

China is positioning itself to profit from the response to global warming and the eventual shift away from fossil fuels. [Via WorldChanging.]
posted by homunculus (17 comments total)
So we go from being reliant on one bass-ackwards, oppressive culture to being reliant on another bass-ackwards oppressive culture. Yay, America!
posted by keswick at 11:29 PM on August 26, 2004

China is positioning itself to profit from the response to global warming and the eventual shift away from fossil fuels.

Well they better... seeing as how the US is setting itself up to control the world's oil assets.
posted by wfrgms at 11:42 PM on August 26, 2004

Interesting stuff. The business week article represents a huge shift in rhetoric from even a few months ago, when it was still possible to read editorials in large-circulation rags comparing global warming theories to "junk science". It's still a largely invisible elephant in the livingroom of mainstream discourse - hollywood trash like "The Day After Tomorrow" notwithstanding - nobody wants to believe that we may have already destroyed our ecosystems - or at least thrown them so far out of whack that they will never return to any familiar equilibrium.

The unfortunate fact is that the heat-retention properties of CO2 are cumulative - the world will keep heating year after year for a long time at *present levels* of atmospheric carbon - that is to say, even if we stopped all carbon emissions tomorrow, it may be too late to avoid some very nasty scenarios, mostly involving territories that now support millions of people becoming uninhabitable due to climate change, ie. coastal flooding, desertification, etc.

You think we got nasty wars all over the place now - just wait!

So really we need to think about how to get existing atmospheric carbon out of the air. This would require an enormous amount of energy... hmmm, solar-powered carbon-absorbing devices, self-reproducing and nice to look at too ---> they're called plants!
posted by dinsdale at 12:46 AM on August 27, 2004

Actually a number of countries have been setting themselves up to profit from the increased demand for renewable energy technologies, and have been doing so over a number of years. China are actually well behind Japan and Germany with regard to domination of the market for the manufacture of solar cells. Denmark, Germany and Spain also dominate the market for wind turbine manufacturing, currently the largest of the markets for new renewable energy technology (RET).

Each of these countries can be shown to have developed industrial policy for RETs as part of their overall policy for developing renewable energy capacity. Some countries that have developed capacity have done so with less regard for the growth of relevant domestic industries and as a result have failed to maximise the possible return on their initial investment in the new technology. The US and the UK can both be characterised as having developed policies which fail to drive the growth of national domestic industries for the manufacture of RET. There are a number factor thought to underlie relative success in this area. The central one is thought to be the stability of the main mechanism which drives capacity. Where support is 'powerful, persistent and predictable' (pdf), capacity increases are likely to occur more uniformly and this better contributes to the ability of firms to establish themselves over time. Additional support mechanisms - both fiscal and regulatory - can aid both increases in capacity and the creation of a domestic industrial sector.

So far, the mechanism which has been applied to the greatest success in driving increased RET capacity has been the tariff mechanism which is now employed in the majority of EU states. This provides a fixed price for every unit of electricity that is produced by a renewable generator, and is guaranteed over time. By setting a sufficiently high tariff, the mechanism meets each of the criteria of being 'powerful, persistent and predictable', allowing increased certainty to investors. There are disadvantages to the use of the mechanism; most notably it is difficult to pass on technology cost savings to consumers with the result that costs can be high, but Germany has made attempts to address this through the use of digression of real prices over time.

The central alternative to the tariff mechanism is the quota mechanism, (known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard or RPS in the US). Variations on this mechanism have now been adopted in about a dozen US states as well as the UK. The focus of the mechanism is to drive capacity whilst minimising costs. Each unit of renewable electricity generated earns a tradable green certificate, supply companies are compelled to meet a certain fraction of there demand from green sources and thus a market for the certificates is created. The problem with the mechanism is that there is a lack of certainty for generators - and thus investors - as there is no guarantee of a return, this drives up the cost of capital and makes it more expensive than would be the case in a similar territory with a tariff mechanism, offsetting some or all of the cost reductions earned through increased competition. Additionally it can also drive out investment completely and reducing the likelihood of sufficient capacity increases. Finally, the lack of stability in the market undercuts the steady supply of contracts that the evidence has shown is fundamental to the early development of an effective domestic industrial sector.

Much of the choice of national RE policy stems from political ideology; essentially the application of the RPS mechanism seems to indicate a commitment to competition as the ultimate arbiter of resources, even as the adoption of a policy to create a market for green power effectively acknowledges the failure of the market to effectively address the issue of the environment within historical energy policy. The use of the tariff mechanism seems to indicate the greater prioritisation of environmental goals over the absolute minimisation of economic costs, whilst also acknowledging the potential for additional benefits such as increased employment and exports resulting from development of a competitive domestic industry.

It should be noted that the link between the use of a tariff mechanism and the growth of a domestic industrial sector for RET manufacturing is not a definitive one. Clearly, there is a limit on the possible number of successful entrants. Historically, there are also advantages to being an early entrant to the sector, the level of the potential for national generating resource and also for the potential to use additional mechanisms alongside the central tariff or quota mechanism which also offer the potential for domestic competitive advantage in comparison with firms from other nations. It has been suggested that countries which have the scope to make the choice from either tariff or quota mechanisms - rather than being restricted to the more competitive mechanisms by a competition led ideology - are those which are more likely to also have a greater access to these additional nationally beneficial support mechanisms, and thus to have a greater chance of success in international markets.
posted by biffa at 4:07 AM on August 27, 2004

Dust storms on the rise globally
posted by homunculus at 4:11 AM on August 27, 2004

Applying Climate Foresight
posted by homunculus at 4:24 AM on August 27, 2004

Here's an excerpt from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s new book, "Crimes Against Nature."
posted by homunculus at 4:32 AM on August 27, 2004

China is fucking brilliant. Focusing on renewable energy, for one, will put them in a stronger future position in several ways in comparison to the US. Furthermore, their involvement in Africa can only lead to great things down the line. Africa's existence is almost completely ignored by the US. Eventually, Africa will overcome the obstacles still facing it and China's work there today will come to bear great rewards.
posted by crazy finger at 5:03 AM on August 27, 2004

solar-powered carbon-absorbing devices, self-reproducing and nice to look at too ---> they're called plants!

Related to that: Here is a National Geographic article on carbon sinks. Carbon was the feature story a few issues back.
posted by sciurus at 6:56 AM on August 27, 2004

All the talk of 'buring carbon' and 'use the methane in the sea' I bring you From the wilderness

The cause of the horrendous Permian extinction has long been a mystery, and geologists have suggested a number of possibilities, none of which quite explains the evidence. But in the last fifteen years or so, a compelling picture has emerged. Developed in response to a wealth of new paleogeological evidence from that period-evidence from petrology, geochemistry, oceanography, paleoclimatology and various other disciplines-the scenario is quickly being accepted by the scientific community. The culprit that wiped out 95% of all species and very nearly put an end to life on this planet was runaway global warming.
The temperature rise was high enough to trigger a number of positive feedback mechanisms. Most notably, there was a massive release of methane from hydrates locked into clathrates.

Wonder when Rush Limbaugh will backstack on his longstanding position that global warming is bunk.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:04 AM on August 27, 2004

The Chinese might want to keep an eye on those crafty Australians. I'm a bit skeptical, but it sounds promising.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2004

This is another instance of the Chinese gov't policy toward the environment: "wreck it now, fix it later with the money you earned from wrecking it". other words, they're gambling that the money spent on this solar initiative will produce enough business opportunities, down the road, to offset the risk of not using this money to fix the Chinese environment. The money gained in the future can be used to repair the damage that wasn't fixed today.

If it works, it's pretty clever, and the geopolitical benefit is a nice bonus.
posted by aramaic at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2004

How appropriate. I was thinking today about global climate change, and how humanity might survive an asteroid impact or super-volcano explosion that covered the earth in a layer of dust that blocked out all sunlight. I've always allowed myself a little bit of panic at the thought.

It then occurred to me that humanity could survive if we went underground. I feel a little matrixy saying that, but it would be possible using geothermal energy to build underground hydroponic greenhouses and subsurface water.

I know that scientists have created Biosphere 2 above the earth and great underground networks below the earth (which still depend on resources above ground to survive beyond massive storage of consumables).

Has anyone done any serious research into surviving underground entirely?

Its actually a great idea. Even if the earth outside becomes too hot or too cold, we can isolate ourselves from the vagaries of climate and use the earth's energy to create our own indoor climate that could last, well, indefinitely? (or until an earthquake or direct asteroid impact or some physical catastropher strikes)
posted by PigAlien at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2004

Rough Ashlar, that whole methane hydrate shit scares the shit out of me. On the one hand, I am very happy that the earth could at least protect itself! I mean, it wouldn't wipe out ALL life on earth. Anyhow, related to my earlier question, could we survive underground if the methane hydrates were to be released? I mean, atmosphere becomes a non-issue when you're living in self-contained underground cities, right?

Who's going to help start the digging of Zion?
posted by PigAlien at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2004

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