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The Problem of Coal Consumption Rests More on Residential Use than on Power Plants:

An Exclusive Interview with Wang Zhixuan, Secretary General of CEC


Automobile is the major contributor to urban air pollution
Reporter (R): What do you think is the major reason for smog?

Wang Zhixuan (W): Multiple reasons result in continuous and frequent smog. Human factors include: unscientific use of coal; urban pollution featured with automobile; and construction for infrastructure and urbanization. Automobile and coal-burning are the two most serious reasons. But they differ in their emissions and in the influence on different regions. For example, although coal-fired power plants have a higher proportion of SO2 emission, but because of high chimneys and long distance to cities, its influence is not as big as automobile.

R: Could you specify the reasons for smog in Beijing?

W: Pollutants come from local sources in Beijing: automobile, residential coal-burning and construction. Compared to other cities, oil quality might be better, but the quantity of automobile is large day and night including trucks passing-by at night, which makes automobile the major reason for smog in Beijing. And coal-burning, mainly residential coal-burning, is a serious source of pollution. Coal-fired power plants burn 41% of coal consumption in Beijing, but only emit 2.4% of major pollutants (SO2, NOX and flue dust).


Some coal-fired power plants will achieve 'close-to-zero emission'
R: What is 'transformation of energy production mode'?

W: It consists of two meanings: exploiting clean energy and the clean use of energy, especially of fossil fuel. It is possible to realize the clean use of traditional energy, but we must also to take cost and time into consideration. And furthermore, whether an energy source is clean need to be determined in a system where safety, economy, convenience and social harmony are coordinated together.


R: Some people believe that coal burning can also achieve 'close-to-zero emission'.

W: This is an inaccurate concept. Basically it means that traditional pollutant (excluding CO2) emissions are lower than emissions standards. There will be 'close-to-zero emission' coal-fired power plants in operation very soon. But practically, this is not worth promotion considering the little amount of emissions reduced compared to excessive cost and the many unpredictable technical questions.


R: How much will the cost be?

W: A few cents RMB. About 10 cents if you take the requirements for waste, efficiency and CO2 emission into account. The key for now is if it is rational from the perspective of social costs.


Residential coal buring
R: What is your suggestion on coal burning other than coal-fired power plants?

W: Coal consumed in power plants accounts only for 51% of coal consumption in China in 2013. Although residential coal burning emits lower NOX, it has a larger impact on people's life because the chimneys are lower, the emissions are mainly in densely populated areas. We should minimize residential coal burning and substitute coal-fired power plants for it. In developed countries, power plants take up over 80% of coal consumption. In the US, for example, the proportion is 90%. This substitution should be a macro replanning rather than direct replacement. For example, we can substitute some residential coal burning and industrial boiler for electricity, or fuel-engine vehicles for electric vehicles; save natural gas for residential use; and for those who still have to burn coal, provide them with high quality coal.


R: What about natural gas use?

W: Natural gas is a rare energy source for China. It is better to be saved for residential use. Its scarcity and high price make it a big uncertainty, which will not make it the major power generating resource. Even in the US, with its shale gas revolution, coal still accounts for 39% of power generation while gas accounts for only 27.4%.


R: Then what is your opinion on the prospect of new energy such as wind and solar power?

W: We should develop new energy as much as possible on the basis of scientific and orderly planning. Technical development can give new energy unpredictable growth by leap and bound. Meanwhile, we should never overlook the problem of energy security.


R: The problem of curtailments in wind power is still prominent. State Grid proposes to solve the problem by transmitting wind power from large-scale wind farms through Ultra High Voltage (UHV) transmission lines. Can UHV solve this problem?

W: Wind power curtailment is a complex problem. Basically, uncoordinated development between power generation and grid and unscientific planning, together with technical barrier, market factors and policy problems, result in the problem. Our grids have done a lot to solve this problem by transmitting wind power from large-scale wind farm from the west. But the ultimate solution rest on planning and mechanism.


High quality energy in China is too cheap
R: What is 'transformation of energy consumption mode'?

W: First, everybody should bear the idea of 'energy saving' in mind and make it our lifestyle. Second, the government should formulate reasonable policies and regulations, such as electricity price. Electricity price is generally too low right now.


R: There is a belief that 'treatment after pollution' is inevitable. What do you think?

W: There are some reasons in this theory, but I do believe we can achieve 'development and treatment' at the same time. For example, power industry is in a leading position in technical sophistication, energy efficiency and pollution control. However, it is impossible to achieve the goal by only one industry. All industries should take the responsibility to prevent the environment from further pollution. In Beijing, four coal-fired power plants were modified to gas-fired plants, saving 40% of coal consumption, but pollution emissions were only 2.4% lower and residential gas demand cannot be satisfied.

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