Tuesday, December 15, 2009

China's Nuclear Build-Fest

The NYT is running a cautionary article on China's plans to exponentially expand its nuclear fleet over the next 30 years. A number of inches are dedicated to a potential scandal involving bid-rigging and the president of China National Nuclear Corporation, later noting that "While none of Mr. Kang’s decisions publicly documented would have created hazardous conditions at nuclear plants, the case is a worrisome sign that nuclear executives in China may not always put safety first in their decision-making." Reading between the lines on that sentence, I'd say the NYT tried really hard to find a link from that scandal to safety, and finding none, decided to make everything hypothetical and run with it anyway.

Despite that segment, the article actually touches on an interesting trend in Chinese energy policy, which I happened to also hear about last night at a talk by Jeff Tolnar, the CTO of BPL Global. His talk focused on smart grid technology, but within that mentioned how China prefers to do things from a centralized perspective (big surprise there), so for smart grid that means focusing on the supply side first. This paradigm fits with its nuclear ambitions as well: China plans to build 391 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2050, 61 GW of that by 2020. It currently has 9 GW. In comparison, the US has 100 GW of nuclear capacity today. Even if China meets its nuclear goal, the IEA projects that its emissions will grow "72 to 88 percent by 2020" according to the same NYT article.

So this has gotten me thinking, is China focusing on its large energy infrastructure because that is how its government functions best? Or would China actually be a very effective implementer of demand response and energy efficiency? (After all, if a government can tell you how many kids to have it could probably also be able to tell you what kind of light bulbs to use as well as when to use them.)

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