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Huge potential for sustainable energy in China and India

17 February 2009

Developing countries like China and India are industrializing at top speed. The swiftly growing economy and population is resulting in an increase in energy consumption. Much of this energy is generated by environmentally unfriendly coal-fired power stations. As a result, China and India are contributing more and more to the emission of greenhouse gases. Frauke Urban investigated the role that alternative energy sources could play in countries like China and India. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 27 February 2009.

Urban used so-called energy models for her research. ‘They are computer models you can use to simulate what could happen in the future in the field of energy. The existing models were specially designed for industrialized countries and regions such as America and Europe. I adapted them so that they could also be used for developing countries. For example, the existing models assumed that cooking is done with gas or electricity whereas most developing countries use wood for cooking.’

Coal-fired power stations

Urban then used these models to investigate respectively the energy use of the Chinese electricity sector, the Beijing energy system and poor rural communities in India that do not have electricity at all. During her research she visited the largest coal-producing region in China. ‘Those coal-fired power stations are extremely inefficient and polluting. Around the power stations, all the trees were covered with a layer of ash. In China, most of the greenhouse gases are produced by the energy sector.’

Huge potential

Urban discovered that there is huge potential in China and India for sustainable energy sources (e.g. solar power, wind power and hydroelectric power) and cleaner energy sources (e.g. natural gas and nuclear power). ‘There are may ways that CO2 emissions could be drastically reduced. If 30 percent of the fossil fuels in the Chinese energy sector – used in the installed capacity – were replaced by sustainable energy sources, the amount of CO2 produced would be reduced by 60 percent by 2030.’ Urban used her energy models to calculate how much the switch to alternative energy sources would cost. ‘Depending on what you do, the price of electricity would rise between 20 and 180 percent.’ Urban is thus in favour of the West providing financial support to China and India for the switch to sustainable energy sources.

Economic and social advantages

Sustainable energy sources are not necessarily always more expensive. Urban discovered that sustainable energy sources can sometimes be cheaper than conventional energy sources if you want to supply electricity to poor rural communities in India. ‘By supplying these people with electricity too, the social inequality between the urban regions and the countryside will be reduced. Sustainable energy in this case thus has economic and social advantages.’

Climate conference

Urban hopes that her research can be used by China and India to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. ‘Both countries have national programmes to tackle climate change. They are both also doing a lot to promote sustainable energy.’ In addition, she hopes that her results can be used during the next UN climate conference in Copenhagen. New international agreements are going to be made there in 2009 concerning measures to counteract climate change. The hope is that China and India, too, for the first time, will make agreements about the reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. ‘My research can add weight to their voices at the next climate discussions and maybe help to develop policy.’

Curriculum vitae

Frauke Urban (1980) studied Environmental Science (Geo-ecology) at the University of Bayreuth and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. In 2004 she started her PhD research at the University of Groningen. She currently works as a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Sussex. The title of her thesis is ‘Sustainable Energy for Developing Countries: Modelling Transitions to Renewable and Clean Energy in Rapidly Developing Countries’. Her supervisors are Prof. H.C. Moll and Prof. A.J.M. Schoot Uiterkamp.

Frauke Urban, tel.: +44 (0)1273 915850, e-mail: f.urban

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.
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