China Calls on Iceland for Energy Help in Bid to Tap Hot Springs
China, the largest consumer of coal for power generation, is sending engineers 5,000 miles across the world to learn how the Earth’s bubbling hotspots can help utilities clean up their act.
Cui Yu, geothermal projects manager at Beijing’s Geology Minerals Development Bureau, said the government sent her to the volcanic island of Iceland for six months to learn how to develop an industry tapping underground heat. The country in the north Atlantic warms 90 percent of homes from geothermal supply.
China, aiming to get 15 percent of its energy from non- fossil fuels by 2020, is seeking Iceland’s expertise as it pursues a five-year, $10 billion district heating program. China Petrochemical Corp. has pledged to make geothermal one of its main business units over the period, and Xianyang-based Shaanxi Green Energy Geothermal Development Co. plans to become the world’s largest supplier of Earth-generated heat.
“The demand for energy in Beijing and in China is growing fast,” Cui said in an interview. “One of the ways to satisfy the increasing demand is to utilize more geothermal energy, which is both economical and clean.”
Geothermal energy is so plentiful in Iceland that it melts ice on Reykjavik sidewalks in winter, helps grow bananas in greenhouses and warms more swimming pools per capita than in any other country. The United Nations University has run a Geothermal Training Program there for more than 30 years.
“Iceland has a huge advantage due to its experience and knowledge in regard to the utilization of hydropower and geothermal power,” Cui, 34, said by telephone from Reykjavik, the country’s capital. “China can learn from Iceland’s experience and Icelanders can teach us many things.”
The world’s second-biggest economy has 26 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity, compared with 575 megawatts in Iceland, according to Stefan Linder, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China, which gets 80 percent of its power from coal and is the biggest polluter, has sent the most students to the UN training program, followed by Kenya and the Philippines.
The East Asian nation attaches “strategic importance” to developing geothermal projects, Su Shulin, former president of China Petrochemical, also known as Sinopec Group, said in June 2010. Sinopec Star Petroleum Co., a unit of the oil producer, signed a deal with Iceland’s Geysir Green Energy last year to develop underground heat.
The Chinese company last month agreed with Shaanxi Green Energy and Iceland’s Enex China Ltd. to expand capacity in geothermal space-heating more than sixfold to 20 million square meters (215 million square feet). Once complete, Shaanxi will be the world’s largest utility to supply geothermal heat, according to Enex China.
With Iceland’s help, “it won’t be too long until China will become a leader in the field,” Cui said. “China will become a superpower in terms of utilizing renewable resources such as geothermal energy.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik at email@example.com
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