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China proposes $50 trillion global renewable energy plan

Tony Wikrent's picture

State Grid Corporation of China, which run’s China's electric power grid, has announced it has signed memorandums of understanding with Russian energy grid compnay Rosseti, Electric Power Co. of South Korea, and SoftBank Group of Japan, to begin moving forward with State Grid’s proposed $50 trillion global electricity network based entirely on renewable energy sources.

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 30 that State Grid chairman Liu Zhenya outlined the $50 trillion plan to create a world grid that would deliver wind and solar energy from the Arctic and the Equator regions, to more populated areas around the world. It would easily be the largest infrastructure project in world history. The world grid would be completed by 2050, but Zhenya said his company has begun lining up partners to begin pilot projects to be completed within the next 10 years. The Journal explained State Grid plan:

In the near term, the focus will be on long-range interconnection domestically and on developing battery and other technology needed for better transmission of renewable power resources.

Then, over subsequent decades, China’s grid would be connected with others, starting with northeast Asian neighbors like Mongolia and South Korea. Construction of the huge solar power bases and Arctic wind farms, as well as long-range power lines to demand centers, would follow.

Russia’s RT.com reported that:

According to State Grid’s Chairman Liu Zhenya, the planet is facing "three major challenges", which are energy scarcity, environmental pollution and climate change.

Liu added that smart grids, ultra-high voltage (UHV) grids and clean energy are the only way to a green, low carbon, economical, efficient and open energy system with sustainable supply.

Liu also said the global network could boost the share of clean energy to 80 percent of global consumption, displacing fossil fuels as the main energy source.

"China is already the biggest country in the world for wind, solar power generation and also UHV grids. And has scale, so we can learn many things from China's success. Also, by interconnecting, we can help each other on supply and demand," SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told the Global Times.

Jon Larson at Real Economics noted that “This is unlikely to be the final word on any serious conversion to renewables, but it's an interesting start,” and put the Chinese $50 trillion plan in perspective:

So now we have a hard number on what it would cost to build a global solar infrastructure—the Chinese are telling the world they will do it for $50 trillion.  Since the Chinese tend to be the low-cost bidders for this sort of enterprise, we can probably assume this is about as low an estimate as we are likely to see.  My friendly amendment would be that they are only talking about stationary uses for energy (home heating, lighting domestic hat water, etc.).  It would be damn surprising if someone has calculated the costs of replacing fossil fuels for ocean shipping or anything that flies.  So let's double that figure and we have our unofficial blog slogan—serious discussions about cures for climate change start at $100 trillion.  And since any productive enterprise these days must also support the various corruptions of the Predator / Parasites, we may have to double that to $200 trillion.

A few years ago, Mark Z. Jacobson, at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucchi, at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis, calculated what is required to to shift the entire world to renewable energies.  Jacobson and Delucchi found that $100 trillion in new investment is needed, as explained in a November 2009 article in Scientific American.

In 2011, Jacobson and Delucchi posted two pdf files providing heavily footnoted details of their 2009 Scientific American article; the pdfs provide all the details you could want, including discussion of critical material shortages, such as rare earth elements, for a mass, crash program to build:

  • 3.8 million 5-Mega-Watt wind turbines;
  • 49,000 300-Mega-Watt concentrated solar plants;
  • 40,000 300-Mega-Watt solar power plants;
  • 1.7 billion 3-kilo-Watt rooftop photvoltaic (PV) systems;
  • 5,350 100-Mega-Watt geothermal power plants;
  • 270 new 1,300-Mega-Watt  hydroelectric power plants;
  • 720,000 0.75-Mega-Watt  wave devices; and
  • 490,000 1-Mega-Watt tidal turbines.

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies.

Reception of the $100 trillion price tag in the United States, including among progressives and the Democratic Party, has been mostly hostile. Apparently, many people just cannot conceive of how to pay for such a program—despite the facts that the world derivatives trade is now over $1.2 quadrillion ($1,200 trillion); the average daily  turnover in foreign exchange trading around the world is estimated at $3.98 trillion (as of April 2010); and the world's one percent are hiding an estimated $32 trillion in offshore accounts

So, while the Chinese appear to be getting serious about shifting away from fossil fuels, and is lining up major countries such as Russia, Japan, and Korea as partners, in the United States we have a faction of fanatical billionaires pouring millions of dollars into: climate change denial; attempts in state legislatures to prevent state employees from even discussing climate change; and legal challenges in a number of states to clean energy mandates. When the world is hit with a climate related natural disaster that claims millions of lives, we have to be prepared to start treating climate change denial as a criminal offense, just like Holocaust denial, and hate crimes. We are running out of time to save the planet and can no longer tolerate the anti-science delusions of conservatives and libertarians, no matter how many billionaires they can get to fund their think tanks and media outlets.

And there is also the strategic consideration of China emerging as the world leader in the shift away from fossil fuels, while the United States is anchored in the past. China is already causing major heartburn among USA elites, with China’s work on a New Silk Road, designed to economically integrate the countries of central Asia with modern high speed rail lines. The London Financial Times compared the New Silk Road to the post World-War Two Marshall Plan that helped rebuild the war-shattered economies of Western Europe. I have little doubt that State Grid’s $50 trillion plan was conceived in part as a contribution to the New Silk Road. By contrast, U.S. policy in Central Asia, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, is focused on the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which would obviously chain the region even tighter to the legacy of fossil fuels.  

The TPP and other new trade deals have been promoted in part as the USA counterpoint to China’s growing economic influence in Asia in general, though President Obama, and USA diplomats, so far as I know, have not yet explicitly stated that the New Silk Road is also a concern. It is clear to me which country has a better vision for the future, and I am ashamed to say it ain’t us.

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