How will China meet its energy goal?

A group of Stanford students spent their recent spring break in China, examining the issues of economic growth and energy demand. The students used TerraPass to offset the emissions from their trip. In this guest post, Kathleen Livelli provides impressions and photos from the trip.

China’s goal is to quadruple GDP by 2020 while only doubling energy use. This is an ambitious leap in efficiency, but how will China get there? And is it enough?

Choking air pollution is the first noticeable sign of China’s energy-use problem. A layer of smog hangs over almost every city. China feeds two thirds of its energy needs with coal, which, in addition to smog, contributes to climate change, acid rain, and mercury pollution in waterways.

Pile of coal
Coal pile and power plant. Photo by Bridgette Steffen.

Much of the rapid growth in energy use is being fueled by the continued demand for Chinese manufactured goods. Cities are growing at much too fast a rate for the government to control layout and planning. Cranes are everywhere and clusters of new, inefficient buildings sprout up by the minute.

But it isn’t all hopeless. China’s energy-use per capita is still only one eighth that of the United States. Virtually every light bulb is a compact fluorescent. Chinese building codes are evolving to embrace greener standards. Although demand for cars is exploding, bicycles are still a major form of transportation. At rush hour in Kunming, bicycles are as thick as cars, and bike lanes are as wide as city streets.

Rush hour in Kunming
Rush hour in Kunming. Photo by Kathleen Livelli.

Solar hot water heaters are the standard in both urban and rural areas. In some cities, rows of these heaters cover the rooftops. Wind farms are under development.

Solar water heaters
Rooftop solar water heaters. Photo by Bridgette Steffen.

The scale and rapidity of growth in China mean what happens here matters. Despite rising energy demand, China has tremendous potential for green growth, but only with concerted efforts from both inside and outside the country.

More photos after the jump.

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  1. Bruce Bishkin - May 30, 2006

    I read about Terrapass through my Wharton School alumni alerts. Our company installs Mechanical Vapor Recompression Evaporators. Last year I noted that we installed a unit at a die caster in Tennessee that I calculate saved 3000 tonnes/year of carbon dioxide. We are presently installing other projects large and small that will save large amounts of carbon dioxide.
    Do I get free TerraPasses for this?

  2. Adam - June 3, 2006

    You definitely get a gold star for the good work you’re doing reducing the carbon emissions from industrial processes. One third of the reductions that TerraPass funds are from similar industrial efficiency projects. Thanks for making them happen.