Breathing in burning plastic

In 2014 I spent three weeks in China. In Guangzhou to be precise.

One of my best friends, Rob, runs a company out there and offered to put us up and show us around.

In the second week, we thought it would be a fun idea to go on a two-day cycle trip into the next province.

Rob assured us that we wouldn’t need our passports on us during the ride. So as it was the rainy season, and we didn’t want to risk ruining our passports in a storm, we left them behind.

We should not have listened to Rob.

We ended the first night of our cycle stuck in a police station. A hotel owner was at the desk pleading our case for not kicking us out of the city at midnight.

Lesson learned. Always have your passport on you when travelling in China. A photo on your phone won’t cut it with the police.

On the way back we cycled past a number of what we termed “burning plastic” factories.

These places kicked out so much toxic smoke that we started feeling very sick. If you’ve ever thrown plastic on a bonfire, it was the exact same type of smoke. It felt like every breath you took of it was shortening your life.

I should point out here that this was one of the most amazing and scenic bike rides I’ve ever been on. It wasn’t all “burning plastic” factories. There were miles of deserted cycle paths and amazing vegetation. And beehives – which I’m terrified of. Many, many beekeepers along the cycleway.

It’s just on the route back, we chose to go on the motorway to save time. Yeah, you can cycle on many of the motorways in China. It is about as terrifying as you would expect.

Throughout the trip, spotting “burning plastic” factories became an activity. We couldn’t believe the fumes these places were kicking out. And how many of them there were.

Which is why I find it amazing that just a few years later China is leading the world when it comes to clean energy.

China is now the world’s dominant producer of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries

Not only that, but it is responsible for 45% of the world’s renewable energy investment.

As is evidenced by – get ready for it because this is a mouthful – the “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018” report, by UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Center and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Here’s what it said:

The world installed a record number of new solar power projects in 2017, more than net additions of coal, gas and nuclear plants put together. China has been the leading destination for renewable energy investment, accounting for 45 percent of the global investment.

The country has initiated 13 offshore wind projects, which in addition to reducing emissions will generate jobs in all stages of construction and operation. This demonstrates the potential for renewable energy to fight climate change and boost economic growth. Fossil-fuel-rich countries are also showcasing strong progress.

The United Arab Emirates, for example, recorded an astounding 29-fold increase in renewable energy investment in 2017.

You can read the full report here if you’re interested.

And when I was at the Event Horizon energy conference in Berlin last month, there was a lot of talk about how far ahead China is in renewable projects and production.

Not only is it building clean energy plants in its own country, but it’s producing most of the world’s renewable energy supplies, too.

It makes most of the panels, batteries and turbines that get used in other countries’ plants.

China is slowly becoming the renewable energy kingpin. Actually, that’s not very fair. China already is the renewable energy kingpin. It’s just most people haven’t realised it yet.

In five years or so, China’s image as a world polluter may have completely evaporated.

Because it’s not just clean energy production that China is leading on, but clean cars as well. As Bloomberg reported on Monday:

“China will continue to be the pivotal factor that drives the fast popularization of electric vehicles globally,’’ said Nannan Kou, a senior associate at BNEF in Beijing and an author of the forecast. “China’s EV policies are reshaping the corporate strategies of global carmakers such as Toyota and helping its battery makers get into the supply chain for global automakers.’’

China sold 72,000 passenger EVs in April – a 136 percent increase from a year earlier, according to a separate BNEF report Monday. By comparison, U.S. EV sales were 19,700.

So how is Britain doing?

You may have heard the politicians on the news yesterday talking about their plan to reduce domestic burning of solid fuel.

By solid fuel they mean wood and coal. These are among the worst pollutants. And, somewhat ironically, they are usually burned by people with the most eco-friendly outlooks.

If you’ve ever tried walking up Regent’s Canal on a winter’s evening – or running up it in my case – you’ll know just how horrible the pollution from wood-burning stoves is.

In my experience, it’s second only to China’s “burning plastic” factories. Not quite as toxic feeling, but still horrible to be around. It still feels like it’s poisoning your soul.

As was reported today, officials state that “38% of particulate matter comes from domestic wood burners and open fires, which just 7.5% of homes have.”

Those, particles known as PM2.5 are linked to cancer, heart disease and strokes. They are the very bad sort of pollution. And the worst offenders are wood-burning stoves.

I should probably say that I can’t find out who these “officials” are or how they conducted their research. So I guess we can’t wholly trust them. But there is no denying that wood burners are very, very bad for people’s health.

Still, it’s not all bad news for Britain. On a more industrial scale, we are doing well.

As The Times reported on Sunday:

Britain went for more than two days without burning any coal for electricity this week, the first time since the Victorian era.

Coal-fired power stations were Britain’s biggest source of electricity as recently as 2013, but usage is now in decline because of environmental legislation and the carbon tax. This levy makes it expensive to burn coal relative to gas. The government has said that the polluting fuel source will be phased out by 2025 at the latest.

National Grid said that no coal plants were running for a record of 54 hours and 55 minutes, from 10.25pm on Monday to 5.20am yesterday. Wind farms and gas-fired power plants provided the majority of Britain’s electricity over the period, with wind power accounting for 33.7 per cent of supplies on Tuesday.

And that is just the start. There has been a new development in Britain’s energy production that could massively reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

My colleague Eoin Treacy has been investigating this new fuel source for the last few months and produced a fantastic report on how it all works.

He calls it “Royal Oil”. But it is neither oil nor gas. It is actually a completely clean source of energy. And I should also stress, it has nothing to do with fracking.

It’s simply a way to heat up massive amounts of water, which can then be used to power energy-generating turbines.

In effect, it is a giant heat source deep under the ground. One which could cleanly generate electricity for decades and decades.

And what’s more, the company that has worked out how to harness this massive, clean energy source is now working with countries all over the world.

It’s showing them how to tap into their own clean energy resources using its technology.

As you’ve probably realised, Eoin believes a small investment in this company now could make you a massive amount of money in the long run. 

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Energy

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