February / 2007
The Future of Electricity

Improving Asia's environment
by: Nancy S. Grant

How ideas from U.S. utilities are helping China and India control global emissions

One key question facing people around the world today is: can a nation be both “green” and rich?

In other words, is it possible to generate and use electric energy in an efficient, environmentally responsible way and have a strong economy?

Members of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP) believe the answer is “yes.”

Engineers and business executives from the United States and five other Pacific Rim nations recently formed this voluntary association to exchange ideas. Since its inaugural meeting in January 2006 in Sydney, Australia, the APP’s already accomplished a lot.

The group’s goals include improving efficiency at coal-fired generating plants, increasing energy security, reducing emissions, and doing all these things in a way that promotes economic growth and poverty reduction.

In October 2006, American Electric Power (an investor-owned utility, parent company of Kentucky Power, which serves 20 eastern Kentucky counties) hosted the APP’s first site visit in Columbus, Ohio. Engineers from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India gathered with their American hosts for a series of technical meetings, followed by visits to power plants. The week long event brought together people who work with electricity every day, as well as experts in regulatory matters, to explore the practical details of energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, and economic growth.

AEP spokesperson Pat Hemlepp says, “What makes the APP so important is that, unlike some other climate initiatives, where officials meet in a room, talk, make some commitments, and then go home, this event was a hands-on learning activity that will lead to actual emissions reductions. It was not government-to-government, but rather engineer-to-engineer—and that’s quite different from what is taking place elsewhere.”

The international visitors got an up-close look at how older American power plants in Ohio have been retrofitted to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Later, they traveled to Alabama then on to Florida to tour Tampa Electric Company’s integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) facility, an innovative generating project.

Sharing American know-how with the other countries around the Pacific Ocean is important for many reasons.

While it’s common knowledge that the United States did not sign, and is not bound by, the Kyoto Accords on climate change, what often goes unmentioned is that China and India are not part of Kyoto, either. They were exempted back in 1992 because of their still-developing economies. But in the 15 years since then, the economic growth in these two densely populated countries (China 1.3 billion, India 1 billion) and huge leaps in industrialization mean their demand for electricity is also growing rapidly.

On average, India and China are bringing a new coal-fired power plant online each day. Massive amounts of megawatts are being generated in these two Pacific Rim countries. By the end of this decade, their rapidly expanding generation facilities will reach 650 coal-fired power plants—and that aggregate will have a much larger impact on the global environment than the number of power plants within the United States. Any information and technology that American energy experts can share with their international counterparts about reducing emissions, improving efficiency, and doing these things in the most cost-effective way possible, will help.

Kirk Johnson, executive director for Environmental Affairs at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), says, “Since the Clean Air Act was signed in 1970, the United States has reduced emissions of the six key pollutants governed by that Act by over 50 percent. At power plants, the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have been reduced by 40 percent, while at the same time electricity usage and the nation’s gross domestic product have increased by about 80 percent. If we can show China how we’ve done this, they won’t need to be afraid of hindering their own economic growth as they improve their overall environment.”

This is an immediate concern for China, as their national government has recently imposed new mandatory regulations requiring removing sulfur emissions by about half at their existing coal-fired power plants, with a further goal of cutting their overall air pollution by about 10 percent.

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, says, “The Asia Pacific Partnership will help facilitate technology sharing and the engineering practices and the financing that are going to be required of the Chinese utilities sector to achieve the new national mandate on de-sulfurization.”

Another recent Chinese project focuses on energy efficiency. China is purchasing $58 million of equipment from Caterpillar in the United States to capture methane from one of China’s state-owned coal mines. The project will reduce methane emissions to the atmosphere, while producing 120 megawatts of electricity.

Nearly 100 projects involving additional site visits, exchanges of technological information, business-to-business exchanges, and conferences are now in progress among individual members of the Asia-Pacific Partnership.

The APP also put together several task forces on far-reaching issues such as developing more renewable energy sources, as well as improving energy-intensive industries such as aluminum, steel, and cement.

The NRECA is participating as an official observer in the APP’s power generation and transmission task force. Johnson says, “We are also working with the APP to see if there are things we can do, possibly through the NRECA’s International Program, that would help bring more efficient-energy delivery to the rural areas of member countries. Working through the APP gives the NRECA another opportunity to share our knowledge with rural people.”

To find out more about the APP, visit this Web site: www.asiapacificpartnership.org.

Energy journalist NANCY GRANT is a member of the Cooperative Communicators Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.