A Hobbson’s Choice?
China approved the construction of more than 100 million tonnes of new coal production capacity in 2013 – six times more than a year earlier and equal to 10 percent of U.S. annual usage – flying in the face of plans to tackle choking air pollution.
The scale of the increase, which only includes major mines, reflects Beijing’s aim to put 860 million tonnes of new coal production capacity into operation over the five years to 2015, more than the entire annual output of India.
While efforts to curb pollution mean coal’s share of the country’s energy mix is set to dip, the total amount of the cheap and plentiful fuel burned will still rise.
There’s a lot of good info in the article, and I suggest you read it all. Essentially, the opening of the new mines is replacing some older mines. Net, the production of coal-based energy is increasing in China, even as pressures come from outside for China to reduce their coal production and cut greenhouse and smog problems.
Most people would likely say that China has to choose between supplying energy for its growing industrialization and being a responsible citizen of the first world. Actually, it seems to me that most people would just say that China has to stop making energy because energy is bad. But I’ve already talked about that elsewhere, so never mind.
The choice I see here is actually pretty limited. China has to employ approximately a hundred million new people, support an aging population, and grow faster than the rest of the world in order to continue to supply it. The short path to running this massive treadmill is to continue to drive technology and automation, and that requires power. China does have a fairly decent capability for hydro-electric, but nowhere near the infrastructure to drive that power to key population areas. So that leaves coal for the short term until it can find other power methods that scale.
And sorry, wind and solar don’t have a prayer of keeping up with the infrastructure. Given a large amount of property, you can generate enough power to hold steady. Given today’s technology, it’s really impossible to scale to a growing nation. There is potential to change that, but not in a way that’s going to drive the current industrial scale that is creating new cities purely to support the growth of the rest of the world.
So for China, it’s really down to a single choice: Driving the scale that keeps the globe moving. I wonder if even China can keep up?