Let’s Look Beyond the Haze

I was in Beijing last week and noticed the smog, of course, but as China grapples with Olympics and air quality I also saw something much more important. China is serious about energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases.

In recent months, the Chinese government has closed over 21 gigawatts of the dirtiest, most inefficient power plants. They didn’t do this just for a temporary clean air benefit around Beijing - - it was done permanently all across the country. They also closed inefficient foundries, furnaces, and cement makers in huge numbers.

The government is in talks with major manufacturers, provincial leaders, and experts from places like California’s Energy Commission (the agency that is largely responsible for making the Golden State 40% more energy efficient than the rest of America) to squeeze out all of the inefficient machinery, power generators, and heating/air conditioning equipment. They’re also doing the obvious - - one official told me that the government will replace 2 billion incandescent light bulbs in the next year with more efficient ones.

It looks like China has learned a lesson that we are slowly grasping in the US - - that efficiency is the cheapest form of energy supply and is good for the environment and economy simultaneously. The big difference is that too many US businesses still resist state and federal efficiency or renewable energy policies in the misguided belief that a short term cost is harder to bear than a long term benefit. Maybe after the Olympic fever subsides, it might be useful for execs from some of those entrenched businesses to take vacation in China and see/hear for themselves.

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