Power Trip

China is hard up for energy-saving technology as power consumption rockets


China is becoming one of the largest energy consumers in the world. With its enormous 1.3 billion population and a galloping economy, the country is now filled with private cars, city lights and air conditioners working day and night. All this can be seen as one desirable consequence of modernization. However, some experts protest: energy saving is a great challenge confronting China and it doesn’t necessarily have to jeopardize or slow down the economy.

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Urban construction, for example, is an area that has huge potential for energy saving if properly reformed, asserts Tu Fengxiang, Chief Expert of Energy Saving in the Construction Industry Association of China. According to him, buildings can be constructed from the ground up so that they consume energy more efficiently. This way, the argument goes, people would not have to depend on electrical generator to ease strains on supply.

Commercial and residential facilities account for 27.6 percent of national energy consumption. This figure is very likely to rise sharply to 33 percent, considering population growth and rising living standards, Tu points out. It is possible to design buildings with devices and out of materials that save energy, but most contractors simply omit this from their design.

In many cities and villages, a comfortable life means heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, which is new here. This has put the nation’s electricity supply at full capacity. In winter 2003, eight provinces and municipalities announced regulations to limit electricity use. Furthermore, this year, 17 provinces have vocally discouraged excessive electricity consumption, while others have encouraged their citizens to turn down their air conditioners, if possible.

There is simply not enough electricity to go around. Counter-intuitively, Tu says, it was not wise to build a batch of power stations. For one thing, there are large time gaps between peak periods and down times in energy consumption. So, many stations have had to stay idle when the weather is mild.

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His words are echoed by Danfoss, an international supplier of refrigeration, heating and water, air conditioning and motion controls. The Danish family company started operations in China in the 1990s and has been dedicated to making the country its “second home market.” Its products, as well as proven energy-saving technologies from the West, Danfoss claims, provide an alternative that help Chinese people save, while not forfeiting a comfortable life.

Carsten L. Sorensen, President of Danfoss China and President of Danfoss Heating for Asia Pacific, introduced the “Danish Model for Energy Saving” for heating at the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Millennium Development Goals Conference in Beijing on March 26, 2004.

Spurred by the energy shortage resulting from the oil crisis in the late 1970s, Sorensen says Denmark has adopted a new energy-saving framework for the heating of buildings. The proposal declares that, between the years 1972 and 2000, rooms are heated 50 percent more effectively per square meter, while heating 50 percent more floor space.

Valves, compressors and gear motors, all Danfoss devices, may not seem very exciting at first glance. They do, however, represent successful innovations in energy-saving technology. China can learn from them. Indeed, it may be compelled to, as energy shortages become bottlenecks for sustainable economic growth.

For the Danish experience, the key was “installation of modern heating controls in all new buildings [to be] required by government regulations and legislation,” Sorensen said. The private sector also supported such technologies, like Danfoss. The media, too, was instrumental in informing the public about the significance of energy efficiency.

The economic benefits of saving energy are clear. “If the country really makes an effort to save energy from now on, then, by 2020, we will have saved energy equivalent to 335 million tons of standard coal,” wrote Tu in his article for People’s Daily, China’s crown official newspaper, this April.

But the challenge is still daunting. According to International Energy Agency, China’s total demand for energy will rise by 90 percent to 152 percent from the year 2000 to 2020.

Feng Fei, Deputy Director of Industrial Economy Department of Development and Research Center in China’s State Council said, rather ominously, “China’s social and economic development continues to entail dependency on energy. There is still great potential for raising efficiency, but the difficulties ahead will be much greater than in the past two decades.”