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Rural hydropower to get a boost
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China will boost the development of small hydropower resources in rural areas with priorities given to improve farmers' well-being, power rural economy and prevent local ecosystems from being damaged.

Addressing a national conference held on Saturday, Chen Lei, minister of water resources, called upon water authorities "to turn the country's water energy resources especially small hydropower potential into power supply to advance rural economy and improve people's living conditions in remote areas having no access to the national power grid but being rich in hydroelectric resources."

During the meeting, his ministry unveiled a national survey of China's rural water energy resources on 16,572 rivers where 128 million kilowatts of hydraulic power can be exploited theoretically through building small hydropower stations, each has an installed capacity of up to 50,000 kilowatts.

Such technically developable hydropower resources is up 44 percent over that investigated in 1980, according to Tian Zhongxing, head of the ministry's rural hydropower and electrification bureau.

"The survey, the first of its kind the mainland has ever conducted throughout the mainland's 30 provinces since 1949, will lay a sound foundation for us to learn the total reserves of water energy sources, their characteristics, distributions, existing exploitation, problems and potential for further utilization," the minister said.

With the survey, his ministry has worked out an overall planning for the sector with unit installed capacity reached 75 million KW by 2020, which was up about 50 percent over the kind of capacity the country has today.

Experts estimate the program will help save 82 million tons of standard coal, and reduce the discharge of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide by 200 million tons and one million tons, respectively, each year.

To realize the goal, water authorities will build more small hydropower stations to replace fuels supplies for 1.7 million rural households or 6.77 million residents to prevent local ecosystems from being damaged by cutting firewood for cooking and heating.

Under the ministry's planning, by 2010, rural electrification program with an annual power generation of 16 billion kwh from such stations is expected to be completed in other 400 counties with electricity from them to deliver to 880,000 rural residents who have no access to electricity and 4.85 million people in short of power supply.

By 2020, electricity produced by small hydropower stations would also be available for 10 million rural families in areas where a logging ban has been in effect since 1998 - particularly the impoverished western regions plagued by fragile ecosystems like serious water and soil erosion- and natural reserves.

China's total exploitable hydropower potential is estimated to be 542 million kilowatts, ranking first in the world and next only to coal, according to the ministry.

It is the largest renewable clean energy source available for large- scale development. However, only 32 per cent of the country's total hydropower resources have been exploited, far less than in some developed countries.

By the end of 2008, China has built 45,000 small hydropower plants with their installed capacity and annual power generation accounted for one-third of the total hydropower.

To date, more than 300 million rural residents in half of the country and one-third of its total counties have benefited from the hydropower from small stations with their electricity-use rate increased from less than 40 percent of the total population in 1980 to 99.6 percent.

Most of the potential resources are in China's mountainous areas and foothills, the key areas where substitute energy is badly needed to protect ecosystems damaged by firewood cutting.

The exploitable hydropower potential in Midwest China's impoverished region is estimated at more than 100 million kilowatts, or 82 per cent of the total.

(China Daily May 18, 2009)

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