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City Warms to a Cleaner Heating System
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Every autumn, northern cities in China have to heat themselves up in succession to fight against plummeting temperatures.


Today is Beijing's turn.


Like other residents in the capital, the Ning family are looking forward to the warmth. "Back in 2003, we were not so happy," said Ning Xingsheng, a computer technician who has lived in Haidian District for more than 20 years.


A community coal-fuelled boiler supplied the heat in the Nings' residential building three years ago and caused some problems. "It worked best in the morning but cooled down at night," Ning recalled. "The worst thing was its heavy pollution."


And it's the burning of coal that is one of the biggest pollution problems not only in Beijing but nationwide.


When autumn arrived, coal was piled in front of the boiler next to the Nings' apartment building.


"The strong winter wind always carried the soot everywhere and made our clothes and hair dirty," Ning said. "Our windows were often coated with the black dust, too."


The antiquated boiler was finally removed in 2003, and the Nings' building was connected to a central heating system fuelled by natural gas. "Now the indoor temperature is much higher than before, and it stays steady all day," Ning said. "More important, it's much cleaner."


The Nings' story reflects the change in Beijing's heating system since the late 1990s.


Even better, next year will witness a landmark achievement, as every coal boiler and furnace in the city proper of Beijing will be powered by gas or electrical systems by the end of 2007.


To date, more than 16,000 small city boilers in Beijing, each with a capacity of less than 20 tons, have been transformed into gas or electricity-powered units.


The same update has been made to all the 44,000 smaller coal-fuelled furnaces, too.


And next year, the last group of 1,300 boilers and furnaces will switch their coal power sources to natural gas or electricity, said Cheng Ying, a senior official with the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.


With these renovations completed, the city will reduce an additional annual need for coal by 6 million tons about 12 percent of Beijing's total annual need in 2010, based on the municipal government's projection.


The coal reduction will cut 20,000 tons of smog and dirt and 40,000 tons of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from Beijing's air every year, Cheng said.


Although these figures account for only a small portion of the city's pollution as statistics from the bureau showed that in 2005, Beijing released 576,000 tons of smog and dirt and 196,000 tons of SO2 to the air they testify to officials' determination to curb the problem.


In addition, Beijing's suburbs will begin to adopt a collective heating system instead of burning private small furnaces.


In October, the Beijing Reform and Development Commission said it would apply biomass briquettes, made of paper and sawdust, as fuel for 14 pilot heating systems in four districts and Yanqing County.


The burning of the briquettes, an alternative fuel, would mean less SO2 emitted from burning coal and will generate heat in more than 1.2 million square meters of residential space.


"By adjusting the fuel supply structure, we will try to control the rate of energy consumption," said Cheng, deputy director of the Air Environment Management Department. "More importantly, we need to increase the use of clean energy in the capital."


Industrial and household coal burning, car emissions and flying dust are Beijing's three top causes of pollution, but coal has always been the most serious offender. "The small coal-fuelled boilers, which we are renovating, emit a huge amount of greenhouse gas, let alone some traditional power plants," Cheng said.


Scientists around the world continue to find evidence for the global warming theory and believe it was worsened by the use of fossil fuels, including oil, coal and gas.


Capping emissions may be too restrictive for China, which still has a large population "struggling to earn enough to eat," Lu Xuedu, deputy director-general of the Chinese Office of Global Environmental Affairs, said last month at the Carbon Expo Asia in Beijing.


China's per-capita CO2 emissions are much lower than those of many developed countries, and it was still working together with other countries to help mitigate global warming. The heating system reform is a good example.


The Ministry of Construction recently issued suggestions for a new heating pricing system, charging consumers for the heating energy used rather than the accommodation area they occupied. New buildings will also be required to obtain equipment with heating measuring facilities.


"It sounds more like an energy-saving regulation, but it will surely help reduce emissions," a ministry spokesman said. "The two are closely linked."


Substantial cuts


From 1990 to 2005, China cut its coal consumption by 800 million tons through economic restructuring and using cleaner energy, which figures to 1.8 billion tons less of CO2 emissions.


The country's attempts to control greenhouse gas are not limited to itself. China is now the world's top seller of carbon emission reductions (CERs) under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), with a 60 percent market share in the first nine months in 2006, according to the State of the Carbon Market Report, released last month by the World Bank and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).


CDM is a project-based mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol that encourages developed countries to purchase CERs from companies in developing countries that don't need to reduce emissions by 2012 in order to meet their own limits under the protocol.


During the Carbon Expo Asia, China agreed to 18 cooperative projects with developed countries, with a total estimated annual CERs of 4 million tons.


By October 16, the CDM executive board (EB) approved 23 projects of China, most of which are related to wind-power development. The EB had approved 375 projects worldwide as of October 6.


Liu Qiang, a senior official with the CDM office of the Gansu Science and Technology Bureau, said many companies in the province were bidding for CDM projects, which they consider a "win-win strategy."


"We started this business in 2002," Liu said. "To date we have six projects approved by the EB. And we are now developing 30-odd more projects, mostly focusing on wind energy, biomass energy and energy efficiency promotion," Liu said.


With five hydropower projects and one wind-power project authorized by the EB, Gansu Province tops all the domestic places that have CDM projects. These projects will help cut about 1.5 million tons of CERs.


In August, the Chinese Government approved the establishment of the China CDM Fund, which will generate money from current CDM projects, each turning in 2 to 20 percent of its profits.


Lu, who works at the Chinese Office of Global Environmental Affairs, said the fund would be used to support studies about climate change and green infrastructure.


Lu, who is now at the world global warming conference in Nairobi, Kenya, told the newspaper before he left: "We hope the meeting will reach an agreement about pro-Kyoto efforts. But I am not optimistic about it because it seems that we will not have enough time for discussion in Africa."


But he assured China would always support the mitigating of global warming.


(China Daily November 15, 2006)

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