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Mainstreaming Clean Energy in Rizhao, China

On June 15, the city of Rizhao, China, received a 2007 World Clean Energy Award (WCEA) in the category of “Policy and Lawmaking” for its popularization of clean energy. The award’s presenters noted that in a nation known for its heavy dependence on coal, Rizhao represents an inspiring example of the mainstreaming of renewable energy sources. Large-scale solar power and marsh gas applications in the city directly benefit more than 1.5 million residents, dramatically reducing their yearly energy costs while providing other environmental and health benefits.

Policy and lawmaking by Rizhao’s local administration have been instrumental in bringing about the city’s energy revolution. Since his appointment in 2001, Mayor Lizhaoqian and the Rizhao Municipal Government have adopted several measures and policies aimed at popularizing clean energy technology, including the Regulations on Implementing Solar Energy and Construction Integration that standardize the use of solar energy—particularly solar water heaters—in new buildings. Building examiners must approve all construction procedures before the buildings are sanctioned, and any blueprints that lack built-in solar water heaters will fail to pass final approval.

Solar water heaters are currently installed in 99 percent of all buildings in Rizhao’s urban area, and in more than 30 percent of residences in rural areas. Additionally, more than 6,000 families in Rizhao use solar cookers in their kitchens. During the fallow months, a transparent, biodegradable film is used to cover approximately 470 million square meters of the city’s farmland to allow for an increase in the land temperature and faster maturation of crops in the spring. The city is also home to more than 560,000 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels, which have effectively reduced conventional electricity usage by 348 million kilowatthours per year.

More than 15,000 residential units in Rizhao use technologies that allow them to generate marsh gas from agricultural waste water, with the units capable of generating up to 230,000 cubic meters daily. Currently, the city’s annual marsh gas production is 4.5 million cubic meters, which replaces the use of some 3,100 tons of coal annually. Installed marsh gas power generators have a total production capacity of 13,500 kilowatthours, which would reduce the use of coal this year by 36,000 tons.

Mayor Lizhaoqian and his team note that one of the key challenges for China is finding solutions to develop and rapidly scale up the use of sustainable, clean energy. Speaking of China’s economic advancement, he articulated that, “to maintain a high growth rate of the economy, restriction by energy and environment is nowadays an inevitable problem in China. Therefore, it has been an important task during the economic and social development in China to search for new energies, develop energy efficiency technologies, reduce environmental pollution, and build a resource-saving society.”

According to the WCEA presenters, Rizhao’s many achievements highlight the great potential for government policy and legislation to achieve major changes in the energy sector in a relatively short period of time. Upon receiving the award, Mayor Lizhaoqian said it was “a great honor and encouragement for our work.... Winning the award enhances our confidence and determination to make more efforts on clean energy, and it will have significant and long-term influence on the popularization and utilization of clean energy in our city.” He noted that his administration will continue to explore new approaches to popularize and utilize clean energy, in an effort to build Rizhao into “an eco-city featuring energy efficiency, sound ecology, and a beautiful environment.”

Ishani Mukherjee writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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