September 8, 2005
Asia sees sense in going green as oil prices rise
By David Fogarty
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - For energy-hungry Asian governments,
the answer could literally be blowing in the wind.
geothermal power is gaining ever greater credence as a way to
curb the region's appetite for oil and cut runaway import
With oil prices near $70, and expected by many analysts to
stay over $50 through the end of 2006, governments believe
alternative energy will help keep their economies growing.
The environmental benefits are also dawning on populous
nations such as China, where pollution from burning fossil
fuels is causing health costs to soar and growing urbanization
combined with a booming economy means more appliances from
hairdryers to air-conditioning are plugged in to an
"In the next 20 years China will be building (the
equivalent) of a new Shanghai each year ... we have to find a
way to absorb these people in a way that doesn't bring down the
planet," said Robert Watson, Director of the International
Energy Project at the U.S.'s Natural Resources Defense Council.
Air pollution could be one catalyst for change, according
to David Dollar, World Bank director for China.
"China has 20 of the 30 most air-polluted cities in the
world, and that is primarily because of the use of coal for
power generation and in industry. This imposes a very direct
health cost on China," he said at an energy conference this
One of the world's biggest energy consumers, it already
aims to get one-tenth of its energy from renewable sources by
2020 but is considering setting its sights even higher.
"By 2020 renewable energy (could) account for 15 percent of
energy production in China, including large-scale hydropower
projects," Shi Lishan, director of renewable energy at the
policy-setting National Development and Reform Commission, told
China plans to build its first offshore wind power plant
next year, while Greenpeace has estimated Chinese wind power
potential at 1 million megawatts (MW), more than twice China's
current total installed power generating capacity of 440,700
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Indonesia sees power from the ground but needs investment.
"Indonesia has big geothermal reserves that can generate
more than 25,000 megawatts of electricity," said an energy
ministry official in Jakarta.
"However, lack of investors in geothermal development is
slowing it down. The government has to give incentives to this
project," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Director-General of Electricity, Yogo Pratomo, said the
government would continue to develop renewable energy such as
solar power but costs were a problem.
The Philippines, the world's second top producer of
geothermal power, says high oil prices are helping the green
"Indirectly, it (high oil price) has created a sense of
urgency in developing renewable energy because of its growing
advantage over fossil-based fuels," Energy Secretary Raphael
P.M. Lotilla told Reuters in a recent interview.
India, which produces only 30 percent of the oil it
consumes, is encouraging power generation from renewable
sources, which account for about 4 percent of its output. The
country is already one of the top five wind power producers in
"Renewable sources of energy was always a top priority,
particularly in recent years," said a spokesman for India's
ministry of non-conventional energy sources.
"The current surge in oil prices makes it all the more
important that a greater impetus is given to harnessing
renewable energy in a country like India," he said.
Smaller Asian nations, lacking the resources or investment
to develop large-scale renewable energy projects, have devised
more inventive ways to cut oil use.
Bangladesh said this week it would introduce a two-day
weekend from Friday as part of an austerity drive and has
ordered all public transport, including 150,000 diesel-belching
buses and lorries, to use domestically produced compressed
In Cambodia, the government has ordered ministries to cut
their energy use by 10 percent, while neighboring Thailand, a
net crude importer, is trying to persuade motorists and
motorcyclists to switch to biofuels and domestically produced
The government wants to reduce a ballooning oil import bill
by mixing nine parts gasoline and one part ethanol -- made from
sugarcane or cassava -- to produce gasohol.
Sri Lanka, which used to produce most of its electricity by
hydropower, has had to turn to oil and coal to meet growth
demands but aims to exploit biomass, small hydro plants, solar,
sea waves and wind power to cut oil imports.
(Additional reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison in BEIJING,
Dolly Aglay in MANILA, Himangshu Watts in NEW DELHI, Muklis Ali
in JAKARTA, Serajul Islam Quadir in DHAKA, Nopporn Wong-Anan in
BANGKOK, and Arjuna Wickramasinghe in COLOMBO)