In a speech in Groningen at the Energy Convention 2013, Wu Jianmin, Executive Vice-Chairman of the influential China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, a government-aligned think tank in Beijing, declared that China “very much needs an energy revolution”. China “depends too much on coal”, said Wu. But in an interview with Energy Post he added we should not expect miracles. “We can’t get rid of the coal yet.”
Wu Jianmin, former ambassador of China to the UN and to Paris, mesmerized the audience at the Energy Convention in Groningen on Tuesday with a very frank and straightforward presentation.
Ambassador Wu, who represents the China Institute for Innovation and Development, has a long list of titles, including Special Researcher of the Counselors’ office of the State Council, Member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and Member and Vice-President of the European Academy of Sciences. When he was Chinese Ambassador in Paris, the 74-year old Wu, who speaks perfect French and English, had the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) in his portfolio. There he developed a special interest in energy, which is one of the main research topics of his Institute, and which he views as a key to international cooperation and peace. Earlier this year he became a member of the International Advisory Board of the new Groningen-based Energy Academy Europe (EAE), which aspires to be a center of excellence in energy education, research and innovation.
Wu first gave a broad vision of how he sees the world developing. “There are two megatrends going on in the world”, he said. “One is peace, development, cooperation, win-win. In opposition there is another megatrend: of the cold war, confrontation, conflict and hatred. The first represents light and future. The other darkness and the past. They are competing for dominance. The outcome will determine the destiny of mankind.” China, said Wu, supports the first trend. “We benefit a lot from it.”
Wu warned of the “danger” of “nationalism and populism”, which he believes are a “global phenomenon”. He called on people “to join hands to overcome this danger”. Energy, he said, has a special role to play in ensuring world peace, because nations are “interdependent” when it comes to energy. “Energy is key to a future without confrontation”, said Wu. “Let’s make energy a tool for peace and prosperity.”
Yet Wu conceded that in China in particular energy represents a huge challenge. “An energy revolution is very much needed”, he said repeatedly. “We do not have enough fossil fuels to meet the growing demand for energy in the long term. In addition, we need to combat pollution, smog. Coal is good for 68% of Chinese energy consumption. That’s too much. We depend too much on coal. That is no longer sustainable.”
Part of the solution
The solution, according to Wu, has to come from a number of different sources: nuclear energy, increased gas consumption, increased energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Nuclear power is viewed by China as “part of the solution, not part of the problem”, said Wu. There are currently 26 nuclear reactors under construction in China, as against 66 in all the rest of the world. He is convinced nuclear energy can be exploited safely. “France has demonstrated that this is possible.”
Wu also said that China intends to increase its gas consumption. “Gas represents only 5% of our energy consumption. We want to double this to 10%. The world average is 24%.” He said China expects air quality to improve markedly if gas consumption can be doubled.
To make such a doubling possible, China firmly intends to develop its shale gas reserves. “Experts say we have large shale gas reserves, even larger than the US.” What is lacking so far, however, is the technology to develop them. “We need international cooperation for this.”
Wu dismissed the fears prevalent in Europe that shale gas would lead to serious environmental problems. “Smog is for us a greater risk. We reduce risks if we develop shale gas.”
Wu also said that China needed to improve the energy efficiency of its economy. “Energy efficiency in China is still low. It is one-fourth of that in the US, one-fifth of that in Europe, one-eighth of that in Japan.”
Energy Post asked Ambassador Wu some follow-up questions after his presentation.
You said China wants to expand renewable energy. Where do you see this go?
“Renewable energy now takes care of 9% of energy consumption in China. We hope it will go to 15% by 2020.Renewable energy is so important for us. We invest a lot in solar, wind power, hydrogen. We also need smart grids. They can solve the problem of intermittency. We will certainly invest heavily in smart grids. We will look for international cooperation on this. China is ready to invest abroad, in the private sector, including in Europe, in innovative companies and technologies.”
What about coal? You said China depends too much on coal. But to what extent can you reduce this?
Coal is now 68% of our energy use. If it can go over time to 60%, it is a big step forward. We can’t get rid of the coal.
But then where is the clean energy revolution if coal remains so important?
We have to continue to work very hard to find the solutions. We have to cooperate with the rest of the world. We are cooperating with countries in carbon capture and storage. We are doing some experiments with CCS. We also do research on how we can use the CO2 in industrial processes. And we invest in clean coal technologies.
Can China then reduce its CO2-emissions?
We will do three things. First, we will increase our energy efficiency. Second, we will expand renewable energy. Third, we will increase our nuclear energy.
Do you believe the world needs a climate agreement?
Oh yes, we need a climate agreement. No country can fix climate change on its own.
Do you think the smog that is plaguing Beijing and other cities is a turning point in the way the government thinks about energy use?
Yes, I do think this is a turning point. There is an enormous awareness of the issue now. People are suffering from this. Public opinion is saying to the government: you have to find a solution.
What role does your Institute (China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy) play in this?
We are a think tank focusing on strategic issues such as the relationships between China and US, Europe, Russia, and so on, and also on energy and cyber security. But we also focus on social governance. Chinese society is undergoing a big change at the moment. We need to better manage this.
Wu Jianmin is Executive Vice-Chairman of the influential China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, which has “very close relations with the government”, says Wu, “but is funded by private donations. We do not depend on the government for funding.”
He is a member of the International Advisory Board of the new, Groningen-based Energy Academy Europe (EAE). EAE aspired to be “a center of excellence in energy education, research and innovation”. Founded in September 2012, it cooperates with the University of Groningen, Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, Energy Valley and the Energy Delta Institute, and is partly sponsored by gas company GasTerra.
The International Advisory Board of EAE now includes, among others, Joan MacNaughton, President of the Energy Institute in London, former DG Energy of the UK and former Chair of the Governing Board of the IEA , Nawal Al-Hosany, Director Sustainability at clean energy city Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, Ken Koyama, Managing Director of the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, Tatiana Mitrova of the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Claude Mandil, former Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Earlier this year, EAE signed two MoUs in Shaanxi Province in China, with Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group Co for shale gas research and with the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Energy Resource and Chemical Engineering for CCS research. The two sides agreed on a wide range of cooperation in these two areas. The expertise for these undertakings will be provided by the University of Groningen. This University has recently added 4 specialised Energy Chairs to its educational programme, with the Hanze University adding 3 new Energy Chairs, thanks in part to their cooperation with EAE.