September 28, 2005

China seen world leader in clean energy

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Smog, soot and an insatiable
thirst for oil: that's one image of China.

But the Asian colossus is also seen leading the way in the
use of "green" energies as alternatives to fossil fuels, the
head of a leading environmental watchdog said on Wednesday.

"China is already big in renewables. In 5 years time we see
them as a world leader in this department," Chistopher Flavin,
president of the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute, told Reuters
on the sidelines of an energy conference in Johannesburg.

"Already, 35 million homes in China get their hot water
from solar collectors. That is more than the rest of the world
combined," he said.

Renewable energy is derived from sources that are
continually replaced, unlike fossil fuels of which there is a
finite supply. Most renewables are non-polluting.

"There are prospects for real take-offs in solar and wind
power in China, and not just hot water for homes but in
industry," said Flavin.

"State-owned industries and private companies there are
investing heavily in renewables," he said.

Sky-high world oil prices have partly been attributed to
surging demand from China and the country's overall record on
the environment has many greens seeing red.

But Flavin said the rapid growth in oil imports and related
costs was making China look for alternatives.

He also said the country was grappling with mounting health
and social costs from pollution as well as an energy crisis
that has seen rolling black outs.

Flavin earlier told the conference that renewable energy
was rapidly growing on a global scale, albeit from a low base
compared to fossil fuels.

He said that wind power had an annual average growth rate
of about 30 percent from 1994 to 2004, while solar energy had
seen yearly growth of close to 25 percent over the same period.

He also said that the costs from such energy sources were
falling fast, noting that wind power in 1980 cost 46 cents a
kilowatt hour but now cost less than 6 cents.

But he said that much of the oil industry was missing the
boat and the message it was sending was that: "Real energy men
don't do renewable energy."