Sunday, October 03, 2004

As fuel use rises, China eyes alternatives

When the opening lyrics of ''Dark Side of the Moon" floated through the air at a Beijing bar on a recent evening, patrons sang along to the Pink Floyd classic. ''Breathe, breathe in the air," they chanted in chorus. They seemed oblivious to the irony, in a city that is fast becoming one of the world's most polluted.

To confront such problems, China is increasingly looking to boost renewable-energy technologies, such as solar and wind power and electric vehicles.

More than 30,000 new cars are hitting Beijing's streets every month, city authorities say, and China recently overtook Japan to become the world's second-largest consumer of energy after the United States. With the numerous coal-burning factories that ring the city expanding, a yellow haze often crowns the capital.

Air pollution kills about 4 million people a year in China, according to the World Health Organization. Beijing residents joke that every day spent in the capital is akin to smoking 10 cigarettes.

In addition, the World Bank and other specialists warn that the country's galloping fossil-fuel consumption is threatening to deplete global energy stocks and bottleneck the country's economic growth. ''The goal is to have renewable sources produce 10 percent of all our power" by 2010, said Shi Lishan, a director at the Energy Department of China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

The promise of alternative-energy technologies, which theoretically could produce infinite, environmentally-friendly energy from renewable sources, sounds good on paper. But nowhere in the world have these technologies been able to completely replace traditional power plants by generating cheap and reliable energy in meaningful quantities.

This is the dillema we face. Most everyone has now become aware of the need to switch to renewable energy, but their efforts may be too little an too late.


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