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Want to see the energy future? Pay attention to China


By David Mohler


People are often curious about my travels to China and frequently ask me what exactly I’m looking at when I'm there.

The answer? The future.

Put aside your politics and perceptions for a moment and bear with me. Right now, China is the test lab for a number of technologies that may appear in your area one day soon. And since my job is to follow technology trends for the largest electric utility in the nation, I need to know what’s happening in China. 

Conventional wisdom says that new technology gets created in the United States and is then exported to China. But when it comes to bringing new energy technologies to scale, the reverse may be true.

Consider these five statements.

China is building:

China is on a building spree no matter what technology you are talking about. It is fast building coal-fired power plants. It has more than 20 nuclear plants on the way. On the renewables front, it is building more wind and solar generation this year than many U.S. utilities have in their entire fleet – no matter what the fuel source.

Being plugged into this effort is a great way to learn lessons, avoid mistakes – and bring that knowledge back to benefit our customers in the Americas. 

The promise of clean coal:

China is completing a new coal-fired power plant every week. In many of these cases, the country is testing and bringing to scale technologies that could have application here. We’re partnering with one Chinese company to test growing algae with flue gas and using that algae to capture carbon, with the ultimate objective of providing the algae to companies that can use it for animal feed, fertilizer or production of bio-derived liquid fuels. Early results are promising.

Right now, with no price on carbon dioxide in this country, investing in some of these clean-coal technologies doesn’t make sense for a U.S. company. But when there is a price on carbon, the technologies will start to make much more sense and their impact on American companies could be great.

Renewables are booming:

This year, the Chinese government said it would install 49,000 megawatts of wind, solar and hydro. Practically any figure about China’s renewable market sounds incredible. But as the country installs more and more renewables – and the costs of solar panels and wind turbines continue to drop – China could be a key driver in renewable development in this country.

The nuclear revival depends on China:

China is currently building four reactors using Westinghouse's AP1000 technology -- both far along in construction. This is the same technology that five U.S. utilities have chosen to use. That's why Duke Energy has employees in China following this construction -- learning lessons that may help the nuclear revival here.

China can be a diverse and important source of capital:

As we modernize our energy infrastructure here at home, it will take continuing capital investment. Three Chinese banks, Bank of China, ICBC, and China Merchants Bank, are among the 30 banks participating in Duke Energy’s $6 billion Master Credit Facility.

When you look at these five statements, it’s easy to understand why companies like Duke Energy are paying close attention to the developments in China.

Building relationships in China takes time and commitment. However, when you look at the technology being tested and deployed in the country, the decision on whether that commitment is worth it – is a pretty easy answer.

Mohler is vice president of emerging technology with Duke Energy.











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