Published: 22:31, May 21, 2024
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Nation’s energy evolution a product of farsighted vision and innovation
By Eric Lee

On Dec 6, 2023, online magazine PV Magazine told the story of Oscilla Power, a Seattle-based wave energy conversion technology developer, which created a prototype of a wave energy device, titled Triton, together with two Maine-based tertiary institutions. Triton is a device that can tap into the movement of ocean waves and convert it into as much as 1 megawatt of electricity.

Triton, per reported, is lauded as a remarkable design that could harness the rhythmic motion of ocean waves, amplify energy production, and adeptly capture oceanic energy across diverse conditions. If successful, the prototype signifies significant advancements in technology and exemplifies the potential for sustainable energy solutions.

This story reminds me of a groundbreaking event covered by China Daily back in June 2023 (Nation Makes Leaps With Floating Wave Energy). The story detailed the commencement of trial operations for Nankun, China’s self-designed and self-manufactured megawatt-scale floating wave energy device. Operating as a floating powerhouse, it utilizes an underwater hydraulic system to absorb waves and a specialized system for energy conversion, supported by power generation, control and mooring systems. This “mobile power bank” is particularly advantageous for coastal areas or remote islands with challenging grid connections.

Not merely a prototype, the 6,000-metric ton Nankun is capable of generating 24,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily — enough for as many as 3,500 households. Beyond serving as a clean power source for coastal areas or remote islands, it could support various marine applications, from observations to desalination, offshore hydrogen production and deep-sea aquaculture. Nankun’s megawatt-scale capacity represents a substantial leap in China’s wave energy technology.

Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuel has been the lifeblood of manufacturing-based economies. When OPEC initiated an oil embargo against nations supporting Israel in the 1970s, Western countries faced detrimental effects on their economies due to energy shortages and hyperinflation. That episode is described by many as the “energy crisis”. The energy crisis prompted countries worldwide to reevaluate their energy policies and start seeking alternative energy sources.

For instance, the US accelerated domestic oil and gas extraction. Following the “shale revolution” — a combination of technologies enabling an increase in oil and natural gas — the US has successfully transformed itself into a major energy-exporter. On the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean, France has been building nuclear power plants since the 1980s, whereas Germany looked to Russia for economical liquefied petroleum gas. Of course, European countries in general have been very active in developing nonfossil energy. Likewise, China has dedicated her efforts to pursue renewable energies.

Half a century has passed since the energy crisis. The recent escalation of armed conflict in the Middle East might raise two natural questions: What has the human community learned from it, and what has been done to prevent its recurrence?

China’s visionary strategy fortifies energy resilience, positioning it as a trailblazer in sustainable development amid global energy complexities. This has given the country the confidence to set ambitious goals, such as reaching the peak of national carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060

China’s visionary leaders have long established a policy of prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuels. For over four decades, the country has capitalized on regional strengths and natural resources to develop alternative sources of energy. This has laid a solid foundation for China to claim a leading position in solar and wind power, as well as hydropower. Not only has this forward-looking policy helped the country reduce reliance on fossil fuels, it has also fostered diverse economic paths for different regions, avoiding the duplication of industries across the vast realm.

Incidentally, the author visited the Baihetan Hydropower Station in late 2023. With a 220 billion yuan ($30.4 billion) investment, Baihetan, a major national strategic infrastructure, now stands as the second-largest electricity generator after the Three Gorges Dam.

Situated downstream of the Jinsha River in western China, the Baihetan Hydropower Station controls a watershed area of 430,000 square kilometers, covering nearly 90 percent of the Jinsha River Basin. Main construction of the project commenced in 2013, with the first set of units beginning power generation in mid-2021. A high-voltage transmission line between Baihetan and Jiangsu as well as Zhejiang, coastal provinces in eastern China almost 2,000 kilometers away, was completed in 2022.

The reservoir typically maintains a storage level of 825 meters, featuring a substantial capacity of 20 billion cubic meters. With a 16-million-kilowatt capability, equivalent to around 20 million tons of coal, it contributes significantly to reducing carbon emissions by approximately 52 million tons. Achieving an annual average power generation of 62 billion kilowatt-hours, the hydropower station serves as a crucial source of green electricity for 75 million people. Notably, all 16 units of its hydroelectric generators are domestically developed, marking a major milestone in the transition from “Made in China” to “Created in China”.

Aside from these figures, the Baihetan boasts several world records, including its 300-meter-high arch dam and 825-meter height, making it the largest in the world. It is the first to use low-heat cement concrete construction with seismic parameters at the forefront globally. The arch dam’s top accommodates a 24-km-long highway, the largest-scale and most technically challenging road construction project to date. These achievements showcase China’s mature capabilities in designing and implementing infrastructure, living up to the title of “infrastructure enthusiast”.

Baihetan and Nankun exemplify China’s commitment to achieving energy independence and carbon neutrality, standing as testaments to numerous innovative projects in this endeavor. Notably, electric vehicles emerge as prime examples, becoming leading green products in the global market and further showcasing China’s prowess in sustainable technologies. China’s accomplishments thus far are not merely strokes of luck but rather the outcomes of an efficiently functioning governance system.

China is not alone in possessing abundant natural resources conducive to the development of new and green energy. Many regions globally, particularly southern countries and the BRICS community, also boast rich natural resources. China’s success can serve as a role model, and through the Belt and Road Initiative, China has the opportunity to assist other countries in leveraging their natural inheritance to foster a more sustainable environment.

China’s visionary strategy fortifies energy resilience, positioning it as a trailblazer in sustainable development amid global energy complexities. This has given the country the confidence to set ambitious goals, such as reaching the peak of national carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

This is the true essence of governance.

The author is a public affairs specialist and international affairs commentator.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.