Ramping Up Renewable Energy

May 28, 2006

May 28, 2006 - For the past year, the World Bank has been researching what it would take for the world to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, says World Bank Energy Economist Gary Stuggins.

The research, requested by G-8 leaders after the Gleneagles Summit last July, has focused on the potential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants in China, India, and to a lesser extent, the potential for energy efficiency potential in Russia, as these countries are among the world's major producers of carbon dioxide emissions.

The analysis is finding that renewable energy technology may be able to take the place of fossil fuels more quickly than previously believed as higher energy prices make these technologies more attractive. Already some renewable technologies, such as wind power, are economically viable, Stuggins says.

"We feel that there are enough technologies already available, so that if there's the political will to do it, we can make substantial differences," says Stuggins.

Stuggins says the Bank is one of the biggest promoters of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the world, financing about $9 billion in these projects since 1990.

Hydropower is still the biggest component of Bank's renewable energy portfolio, he says, but support for other renewable energy projects has accelerated since 2000.

The Bank's energy portfolio in China includes the China Renewable Energy Development Project, which is intended to "set the tone" for future renewable energy projects in the country, says Stuggins.

The project provides grants to companies that produce solar cells known as photovoltaics (PVs). The companies market, sell, and maintain their product in rural areas that do not have access to an electricity grid. Grants cover an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 PV systems in households and institutions to power lights, radios and TVs in isolated communities in Qinghai , Gansu , Inner Mongolia , Xinjiang, Xizang and Sichuan.

Another project in China focuses on increasing the efficiency of coal-fired plants by as much as 50 percent. The Bank is also working with the Chinese government to make a new coal plant ready to employ "carbon capture" technology, which would generate electricity while capturing and permanately storing carbon dioxide in geological formations. Carbon capture is expected to move to broad implementation if the US Department of Energy's "FutureGen" technology proves to be successful when the plant goes online in the United States in 2012, says Stuggins.

Also, in an effort to revive research and development in renewables, the Bank has proposed a venture capital fund be set up to fund R&D for low carbon energy technologies.