Chinese steel city maps out a low-carbon energy future

Panzhihua (China), a booming steel city of more than 1 million people, has adopted an exhaustive long-term roadmap to introduce cutting edge sustainable energy solutions. The plan, partially funded by the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), a Vienna-based NGO that promotes renewable energy in emerging markets, was drawn up by the Administrative Center for Panzhihua’s Agenda21 (ACPA) with the support of city officials.

Panzhihua’s industrial growth trajectory is typical of many boomtowns in China. In the early 1960’s this site on a remote headwater of the Yangtze River was home to just seven families near a ferry crossing. But with the founding of “Pangang” or the Panzhihua Iron and Steel Company in 1965, people began to pour in from all over China, and by 2007 the city had reached a population of more than 1.1 million. Despite its relative youth, the city is listed amongst China’s 118 most energy intensive cities, and it remains very much a steel town with the associated pollution levels.

Nevertheless, the city also has a green streak. In 2005, renewable energy accounted for a full 44.3% of total energy production, primarily hydro with a small portion of biogas, while the local tropical climate offers great potential for exploitation of solar energy.

The new Panzhihua Sustainable Energy City Plan and Action Plan has three main aims. First, to adjust the industry mix away from steel towards services and specialised machinery, second to increase energy efficiency, particularly in transportation, construction and residential use, and Increase the share of renewable energy in the mix, while developing renewable as an industry in the area.

“REEEP’s support has enabled a truly pivotal initiative” said Li Jungfeng, REEEP’s regional director for East Asia. “The Panzhihua Sustainable Energy City Plan and Action Plan has a realistic approach that can be replicated in cities all over China. It’s a good example of how activities at city level can influence planning, assist in building capacity with public servants, and raise public awareness”.

The Sustainable Energy City Plan efforts began with compiling an Assessment Report on the city’s renewable energy and energy efficiency status quo. This called attention to the area’s energy intensity and its high reliance on heavy industry, but also to the huge potential for the expansion of hydro power, solar power and water heating, biofuels and biogas.

In parallel, a manual was developed, on how to go about generating the plan itself, from scoping through to public consultation, resource allocation and the process for action planning. This was summarised in a document that is fully transferable to other cities. A website will be established containing all reference materials. The site will be in the Chinese language with short summaries of materials in English.

In the course of the project, a network of energy efficiency and renewables stakeholders was established, which also included organisations such as UN Habitat, the EU ECOPROFIT programme, and the UNDP / Ministry of Science and Technology Green Energy Poverty Alleviation Program.

Training was held for 61 local government officials and stakeholders on China’s renewable energy and energy efficiency laws and policy, with a particular emphasis on biofuels and biogas, identified in the status quo document as having strong local potential.

The next stage of the REEEP-funded project which is still continuing, involves identifying two sub-projects to jump-start the implementation process: one to develop a network of LNG (liquefied natural gas) stations throughout the area to make LNG a viable option for trucks and buses locally, and the other to expand jatropha plantations in the area as a source for biodiesel fuel.

The city’s pro-green stance has led to a raft of sustainable energy developments in the area. In June the city joined up with China Huitong Credit Guarantee Company and Taiwan Weinan United Technology Company to invest in a solar cell project worth more than US$150 million. The business will be a major production source of thin film solar cells and other solar products. The planned production capacity of solar cells is 150MW per year. Along similar lines, Suntech also recently announced a 500MW photovoltaic project in Panzhihua.

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