Posted May 1997
World Energy Council
22-24 April 1997
Asia Pacific Forum on New Energy Technology
Reported by Gustavo Best, Senior Energy Coordinator, FAO Research, Extension and Training Division
See also: "National training workshop on Integrated
Rural Energy Planning with Special Emphasis on Wood Energy"
THE WORLD ENERGY COUNCIL (WEC) is the largest and most influential international NGO on energy. It works through studies and meetings, at which the most important industrial and governmental representatives participate, and send important signals to the world community on major energy issues.
The Asia Pacific Forum on New Energy Technology for Asia Pacific, directed to all the Asia Pacific region, had as main goal the discussion of the future energy scenario in Asia, and particularly in China. China is by far the fastest growing energy market in the world, with a 7-8% annual growth rate. Coal continues to be the main energy source, primarily for electricity generation (70%) and, increasingly, for rural household cooking needs. Following coal, other major sources are oil, gas, hydro and renewables, in that order. It must be noted that fuelwood and other biomass accounts for more than 30% of total energy consumption in China, but is not adequately recorded or monitored.
The Forum was dominated by discussions and presentations by the coal, hydro, nuclear and hydrocarbon industries. Rural energy matters and renewable energy sources, although a formal section of the Forum, enjoyed less attention from the organizers, the press and the Plenary Sessions. Nevertheless, with the full support of China's Ministry of Agriculture - through its Environmental Protection and Energy Department, headed by Mr. Wang Xiwu - an important Renewable Energy Session was put together and reported back to Plenary.
Programme and participants
More that 1,000 persons participated in the Forum, representing around 22 countries. Many were from private companies, with others representing Governments, academic institutions and international organizations. A technical visit to a village-level gasification plant and to a semi-industrial biogas digester were carried out in the context of the work of the Renewable Energy Session.
The following are among the most important points raised in the Forum:
- Coal will remain an important energy source in China for as long as can be predicted, and new "clean coal" technologies and emission reduction measures have to be implemented. This means that carbon dioxide emissions from the Chinese power sector will continue to increase. All international power companies are bidding to enter this expanding industry.
- Hydropower will continue to grow in China and other countries of the Asia Pacific region. Of particular importance is the Three Gorges Project in South China, which will generate about 50% of China's present power capacity and will be the largest in the world. It is important to recall that environmentalists in China and abroad have signalled the dangers of silting and the need to relocate one million people. Again, several major power construction companies present are bidding in this multibillion dollar project.
- Nuclear power is being reassessed by the Chinese Government. Most probably, a renewed nuclear programme will be launched in China in the next century;
- Energy efficiency has made great progress in China, as can be proved by analyzing the GDP-versus-energy growth rate: as has happened in various OECD countries, GDP has grown faster than energy, this decoupling symbolizing growing energy efficiency and decreasing energy intensity.
- Renewable energy technologies in China have made important advances, mainly in the fields of solar, wind, biogas, gasification, ethanol production and in the joint energy and sanitation/environment schemes linked to animal production, greenhouses and fertilizer production.
- It is clear that environmental degradation and inadmissible levels of emissions are the main challenges ahead of China's and, in general, Asia's energy future. Most speakers were optimistic about the possibilities of covering the future energy needs of the region and about the financial possibilities opening due to increased economic growth and interesting rate of return of energy investments.
- Little attention was paid in the Plenary Sessions to the energy problems facing rural populations, although there is now agreement on the danger of losing a large part of rural populations due to migration to cities. China's population is presently 70% rural (900 million people), of which about 80 million have no electricity;
- The Ministry of Agriculture of China deserves strong recognition for its constant battle to address the rural energy problems of the rural population. As in many other countries, new patterns for investment decision making, dominated by market forces and competition considerations, might negatively affect rural energy development. The Ministry of Agriculture and other Government agencies, such as the State Science and Technology Commission, are aware of this situation. Fortunately, under the Chinese decentralized system, local authorities have the last word regarding local investments and priorities, and are aware of rural energy potentials - it is at this level that considerable advances have and will continue to be made.
Follow-up to the Forum is in the hands of WEC and of the Government of China. It is the Report Writer's impression that the Forum achieved its goals regarding the exchange of information and the discussions with major power companies. Perhaps the need for another such Forum will appear in 4 to 5 years. In relation to Renewable Energy Development and Application, goals were not obvious, and it would be important for the organizers to assess the need and convenience of organizing a specific meeting on this topic in the future. This would require a thorough assessment in the light of ongoing efforts by ASEAN, FAO-RWEDP, ESCAP, APDC and other regional organizations and programmes.