The air pollution ‘white out’ in Beijing sends a clear message: fix the problem of dirty energy now or the costs will be cataclysmic.
In China coal-fired power, heavy industry and a growing automobile culture are contributing to the worst pollution the country’s ever seen.
People are advised to stay indoors, flights are diverted from Beijing and pollution-related hospital admissions are on the rise.
These all point to the rising costs of failing to move to a low-emission energy economy.
The good news, however, is that China’s aggressively developing and deploying the major bit of plumbing for a new regional energy order: High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power lines.
A series of Joint Development Areas could be created in the South China Sea, along with infrastructure to serve them.
These high-capacity, long distance electricity power lines can distribute vast amounts of low emission energy around Asia. They are a key technnology to a better future.
China’s already laid two long-distance, high-capacity HVDC power lines between its large southwestern rivers and the major cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Dozens more are planned.
As this occurs, HVDC cables will revolutionise the energy industry the way fiber optic cables revolutionised telecommunications. They will bring the ‘death of distance’ to the energy industry. That will be good news.
By 2050, HVDC power lines could connect China to Southeast Asia and Australia as well as to Japan and South Korea. Instead of burning dirty coal, China could import and export solar and wind energy. It could load-balance those clean energy supplies with repurposed hydropower and natural gas.
For its part, dirty coal-fired power would be relegated to contingency use only, for instance during heatwaves.
Carbon pricing and climate change is going to force a major reorganization of Asia’s energy markets. Cross-border HVDC will enable deeper cross-border trading. Events like the pollution crisis in Beijing will help provide the spur for this renewable energy reform.
Ten years from now, the current pollution ‘white out’ in Beijing may be viewed in hindsight as the catalytic event that finally speeded up Asia’s clean energy revolution.