By Kathryn Charpin, Policy Group Intern with Goeman Bind HTO, Think Tank
What is clean energy? / What qualifies as clean energy?
Clean energy, also referred to as renewable energy, is energy that does not negatively affect the atmosphere through pollution or harm the environment. It focuses on the reduction of carbon emissions or other pollutants. Examples are solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal/wave energy, and hydropower (Tarbi, L. 2017). Nuclear does not qualify as clean energy since the radiation it causes is technically a long-lasting pollutant. The definition of clean energy focuses on the absence of pollution, which nuclear energy does not meet (Mariotte, M., 2011).
Does clean energy production match its desired consumption globally?
In 2009, Jacobson and Delucchi conducted a large-scale plan to test if the world could be powered by clean energy alone (not including biomass). They found that it is feasible though it is most likely not achievable by 2030, which their initial test was for. They believe that by only implementing clean energy for new energy and converting all existing energy to clean energy, it is possible that the world can be sustained by only clean energy by 2050. (Jacobson, M. Z. & Delucchi, M., 2011)
Which nations lead in production of clean energy?
This list is based on data from the EIA, International Energy Statistics, for non-hydro renewable electricity generators in 2014. Measurements in this list are in billion kilowatt hours per year.
*This list does not include hydro renewable energy production
Is clean energy as efficient as nuclear energy?
It is difficult to make direct comparisons between clean and nuclear energy since it is heavily location dependent. Also, efficiency could be different when looking at land use efficiency or economic efficiency. It is widely accepted that nuclear energy is more efficient than any fossil fuels, but the debate on clean energy verses nuclear energy is not as simple. There are arguments for hydro and geothermal energy being more or just as efficient as nuclear energy but again, it depends on the availability and location that these measurements are taking place at. There is a maximum efficiency that wind energy can reach so it is possible to rule that out as the “most efficient” energy source.
What are risks of nuclear energy?
Energy from nuclear power plants is formed from splitting up radioactive atoms, often Uranium, which releases a massive amount of energy in the form of heat which creates the steam that powers the turbines to form electrical energy. The actual bombarding of the atom to break it in two is not the risky part of the process. The issue comes up when dealing with the radioactive waste of the product. The rods and waste must be removed after a certain amount of time to reduce the risk of compromising the safety of the plant, however, this waste is radioactive which can cause severe health problems for all living beings that become exposed to it. There still has not been an identified way to most effective handle this radioactive waste since it will take several thousand years to decay on its own. The best that can be done is to store it in some sort of safe facility. The second factor to consider when debating nuclear energy use is the event of an accident at the reactor which can lead to monumental damages. While this sort of event is not particularly likely, especially with the implementation of new technology, if an incident occurs it has the potential to kill many people and damage upwards of tens of thousands of human lives and uncountable animal lives due to radiation exposure.
The three most infamous accidents are Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Luckily, the radiation could be contained in the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, but the other two (NOUN) exposed the public to extremely harmful conditions. Three Mile Island occurred because of a fluke malfunction with the cooling mechanism. This led to the melting of a reactor which released radioactive gases at a relatively low level and allowed for the containment of the damages (World Nuclear Association, 2012). The Chernobyl accident was actually caused by a flawed design in the reactor and because of untrained employees. This combination of factors led to an explosion of one of the reactors (World Nuclear Association, 2012. The city of Chernobyl has been vacated since the incident in 1986 when an estimated 230,000 people were exposed to either radiation or contaminated waters or food. The Fukushima incident had a much different cause. A massive tsunami inactivated the cooling mechanisms of three different reactors which led to all three of them melting within the first three days of the incident. It took about three weeks to re-stabilize the reactors but not before contaminated water was able to leak from the reactors. Over 100,000 people were evacuated and more than 1,000 deaths occurred (World Nuclear Association, 2017). The 30km radius around Fukushima was also evacuated after the tsunami floods damaged the plant in 2011. (Meybatyan, 2014)
What is the current clean energy plan in China? How effectively is it being implemented/followed?
In 2016, China joined the Paris Agreement, the most recent global climate deal. According to Climate Nexus, the country’s associated plan has them pledging peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 through increasing non-fossil energy sources to its main supply to 20% by 2030. They also added that they planned to lower the amount of carbon used per unit GDP produced by 60% of what it was in 2005. China is the leading producer of renewable energy and is planning on investing $361 billion on renewable power generation by 2020. As of 2017, its renewable energy investment is larger than its investment in nuclear and fossil fuel combined. According to the country’s National Energy Administration, half of all new electricity generation by 2020 will come from wind, hydro, solar, and nuclear with 100 GW of solar and 200 GW of wind. The government released statistics that the country has decreased in emissions for the third year in a row in 2017 but since the emissions rose as much as 10% per year prior to that, many people are cautious to officially declare it as the peak. It is still imperative that the country continues in the direction of cutting emissions. However, it has not been consistent enough with deceasing emissions and with all the adjustments being made experts are refraining from making assumptions of permanent peaking. In 2017, the country also canceled construction of over 100 coal run power plants. China also plans on putting the largest cap-and-trade system in the world in 2017. (Climate Nexus, 2017)
How do the countries of China, Germany, and the US differ in Energy policies?
In the beginning of June 2017, the United States’ Federal Government pulled out of the Paris agreement. While individual states and companies within the country are still planning on reaching the emission goals and forming a “sort of” union to represent the US within the Paris Agreement, the presidential administration enacted an “America First Energy Plan.” This plan focuses on revamping the long-term decline in coal with the attempt to bring back coal mining while practicing “clean coal” technologies as well as becoming less dependent on foreign oil by drilling more within the states for both oil and natural gas (An America First Energy Plan, 2017).
In Germany, nuclear energy is no longer in the mix for their main energy sources with the goal of phasing it out by 2022, meanwhile the US was trying to stray away from nuclear energy but may begin to remain consistent with the new administration and China is still investing in a heavy amount of nuclear energy. Germany’s share of renewables is 30% which is twice that of the US, and China is between them with a little over 20% share. Germany is planning on going 100% renewable which is different than both the US and China since China still has a decent amount of investment with coal and is producing too much energy with coal (Gob, S., 2017). The US previously have been straying away from coal, exponentially expanding the use of energy from natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy sources. The new administration has now made intentions clear about further investing in coal, natural gas, and oil. It is unlikely that China will be able to keep up with the Germany’s energy plan due to the immense use of coal still occurring in China. This paired with the development of renewables and Germany’s engrained plans to cut down energy use in general shows that Germany’ plan is a bit more progressive than China’s. It does, however, seem that China will be clearing way past the US in reaching its energy goals so long as the current President acts on his stated plans for energy (Schiffer, H., Dr., 2017).
What are some exemplary laws and policies about clean energy of Norway and Kenya?
In many cases, Norway is distinguished as having the most advanced energy policy. In 2015 Norway released a white paper on their new energy policy titled ‘Power for Change – An Energy Policy Towards 2030.’ This plan has the goals of integrating with other energy markets in order to control the value of renewable resources in the country, this includes increasing connections with other European energy markets. It is also pre-emptively strategizing to increase the prices of electricity through government facilitation in “energy-intensive activities” which would include lowering the rate of electricity taxes for large processing centers that demands a lot of electricity. Norway is also working towards long-term development of wind power claiming it will be profitable. Norway already has the largest wind resources in Europe and aims to expand on that. There is also emphasis put on making grid activities a separate entity through “legal unbundling.” This includes the regulation that managing personnel in the grid companies cannot be involved in the management of associated company in the grid. The parent company can have influence over economic limits but will not be involved in the day-to-day running of the business of investments. Also, the Norwegian Public Administration Act placed an adjustable ceiling on the grid companies’ income level which allows the company to focus its funds towards becoming more efficient. (Arntzen de Besche, 2016) The new policy focuses mainly on security of supply, efficient production of renewables, more efficient energy use and economic growth, and the use of smart management systems technology. (GREBE, 2017)
Kenya is one of the most active developing countries in regard to clean energy. The country has been proactive towards becoming more reliant on wind, geothermal, and mainly solar energy. Its plan is based on an established feed-in-tariff that allows the country to establish clean energy sources for 20 years. The recent focus has been on expanding the electricity that has already been installed and getting more of the Kenyan population on the grid. The goal is to do this while keeping electricity ready and affordable for developing infrastructure. The Kenyan Parliament is now mandating that any investment in property must be beneficial to the local communities and economies. The government also enacted tax deductions to make investing in energy more appealing, which, in turn, decreases the cost of energy. Kenya signed a deal with China that will exchange information about nuclear power training and development. Kenya now has a plan to build its first nuclear power plant in 2027 with plans to expand it in the following five or six years. (Global Legal Insights, 2017)
An analysis of significant international treaties, conventions, judicial precedents and judgments relating to clean energy
The most recent and most important international treaty regarding clean energy occurred at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is often referred to as “The Paris Agreement.” This is a global climate deal that involves nearly every country involved in the UN with set goals of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, limiting greenhouse gasses to a level that can be naturally absorbed by trees, soil, and oceans, and for wealthy nations helping to back up the finances that less wealthy nations will be facing to achieve these goals and switch to renewable energy. (Briggs, H., 2015) The progress of every national is to be transparent and accountable in regard to reaching the goals set forward. Also, every 5 years each country is to assess and set new, more ambitious goals to reach. China is one of the countries that are spearheading this program by planning on having peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, increasing the amount of clean energy as a primary energy consumption to about 20% and lowering the carbon dioxide intensity by 60 to 65% of the 2005 level. (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2015)
There is also an energy plan designed just by China for China, it is their 13th five-year plan or “Energy 13FYP” which set new 2020 targets including keeping coal consumption under 4.1Gt, a 15% decrease in energy consumption/GDP from the 2015 levels and a 15% increase in non-fossil fuel primary energy consumption. This Energy 13 FYP also includes 2020 targets for non-fossil fuel installed capacity including 210-250GW of wind, 110-150GW of solar, 340GW of hydro, and 58GW of nuclear. (Tianjie, 2017)
What are some issues in China’s laws of policies relating to clean energy?
Of the few identifiable issues with the new China energy plans, the main one is overcapacity. In simple terms, the average demand for electricity is decreasing while the energy supplied (mainly by coal) is increasing. This is also a problem since the demand power growth is not equal across all of the regions in China. The northwest power grid has a much larger demand than the rest of the regions, including a forecasted 5.1% difference in regional power demand between the northwest power grid and northeast power grid which has the lowest demand. If the trend continues and there is a large-scale overcapacity of coal production it would cause a massive waste in investment and will decrease the operational efficiency of coal. This finding also identifies the investment bubble currently occurring regarding coal in China. (Yuan, J., Li, P., etc., 2016).
A list of recommendations and way to forward for China.
The first recommendation would be putting more attention on oil prices and demand. China is currently the largest importer of crude oil and has only been increasing in demand over the past few years. China also has a very large impact on current oil prices, if China makes the oil prices too low, more people will be importing and using oil instead of having incentive to switch to renewable energy (Cunningham, N., 2017). It would also make it easier to reach China’s energy goals if they decreased their dependence on oil. One way of doing this is through altering the electrical grid system.
Electrical grids have been using very similar technology to how they were first designed a few hundred years ago. As a result, many researchers have been working together in designing what is called a Smart Grid. This new grid sets up a type of dialogue between the appliances and demand in your home and the energy available in the grid at the current time. The communication allows consumers to monitor hourly energy consumption as well as control how much energy an appliance is taking up while not in use. While China does have large plans to provide funding for further research into this technology, they are not being productive enough in laying down the ground work for the transition into the use of the Smart Grid. This grid will also reduce the constant demand on the energy grid which may reduce the reliance on Russia’s electricity that China has had for the past three decades (Metering & Smart Energy International, 2015).
This transition along with creating energy targets that identifies the balance of increased non-fossil fuel energy sources with an actual decrease in coal production would lower the risk of overcapacity of energy in China. It may also be beneficial to break down the energy targets by region since there is such a disparity between energy demands across the nation while still achieving the ambitious goals set for the country as a whole.
The global transition to clean energy is beginning to take hold with countries like China, the United States, and Germany at the head of renewable energy generation. China has established very ambitious policies, some of which are tied to international treaties like the Paris Agreement and some are more individual like China’s Five Year Plans that are readjusted every few years. China has already reduced their investment in coal and are beginning to put more emphasis on clean energy as well as nuclear energy. However, the country is still importing crude oil at a massive rate and is not putting a lot of focus towards cutting down actual energy consumption. By beginning the conversion to the Smart Grid, the country will be able to switch over more comfortably and quickly which will push them ahead of many other countries that would follow suit. A target area of building more efficient policies would also be through designing policies towards specific regions of China since the country is so diverse.