China and Iran, Green Together

China says it is planning joint projects with Iran on solar and wind energy.

This news is potentially very important. I once took a 24-hour bus trip through the Great Salt Desert (Dasht-i Kavir) from Tehran to Zahedan, and I guarantee you there is lots of space there for solar panels, and lots of sunlight will hit them once placed there. China is a world leader in the manufacture of photovoltaic cells and likewise a leader in moving to wind energy.

As for wind energy, not every region or country is well placed to exploit this resource. The US deep south, for instance, is not well suited to wind energy, while Iowa already gets about 20 percent of its electricity from wind.

But in this regard, Iran hit the jackpot. The Global Wind Energy Council writes,

“Despite boasting some of the best wind resources in the region, Iran’s wind energy market has not yet realized its potential. The mountainous landscape of Iran holds unique wind corridors, and preliminary studies have shown an estimated practical wind power potential of at least 6,500 MW, according to the Iran Renewable Energy Organisation (SUNA)1, an executive arm of the Ministry of Power. Iran’s best wind resources are located in the mountainous part of the country, along the Alborz and Zagros mountain chain…”

Obviously, Iran should move rapidly toward wind and solar energy and give up on its nuclear program.

After the disaster at Fukushima, it seems obvious that you shouldn’t build nuclear reactors in highly seismic areas, and Iran is prone to earthquakes. Germany has turned against nuclear plants, and I doubt any new ones will ever be built in Japan. Nuclear reactors produce very dangerous waste, and there is no good solution to storing it.

Iran could, ironically enough, use its petroleum and natural gas profits to create a green-energy infrastructure.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave a fatwa against nuclear weapons. He said the only reason Iran has a civilian nuclear enrichment program is that the country will need new sources of power as the population grows and moves to the cities. Iran is in danger over time of using all its petroleum itself, leaving nothing for export, and potentially impoverishing the country. New ways to generate electricity will preserve Iran’s hydrocarbon riches not only for transportation fuel (something I hope is quickly phased out) for purposes such as fertilizer, plastics and petrochemicals, which are lucrative exports.

If Iran can become energy-independent through China-assisted alternative energy projects, then Khamenei’s rationale for a civilian nuclear enrichment program becomes null and void. Iran won’t need reactors, and won’t need fuel for reactors. Wind and solar are far more reliable as a path to energy independence than reactors. Who could bomb all of Iowa’s wind turbines?

By moving to alternative energy and mothbolling the nuclear program, Iran could get international sanctions lifted and begin developing its potential as a full member of the international community. If Portugal can get 45% of its electricity from alternative energy, so can Iran.

Green is the color of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and its very sacredness and nobility should endow it with positive connotations.

31 Responses

  1. Excellent analysis!

    I’m sure the Fukushima accident caused many Iranians to think twice about the nuclear program. However, I wonder if Iran still desires nuclear latency as a secondary goal? (which Prof. Cole mentioned several years ago; the idea being that Iran could convert existing nuclear powerplants into a rush nuclear weapons program in the event that war became imminent)

    • as long as there are a nuclear power in the region. They have the obligation to build a nuclear arsenal. They can learn a lesson where submissiveness lead to from the palestinians.

  2. I sincerely hope that they pursue this venue right to the end. They will save themselves billions and protect their people and environment from the dangers of nuclear pollution which is much more destructive than we are even yet aware of.

  3. Um,Obviously no such thing! First of all Iran’s nuclear program is not due to “Khameni’s rationale” but started under the Shah with the encouragement and support of the US. You’re sounding like a member of the Obama administration, with the talk of Iran “member of international community” stuff. Iran IS a membre of the international community. Iran already invests heavily in alternative energy sources and actually EXPORTS wind turbines (to Armenia) and has recently built one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams and has other projects ongoing but nuclear power is also part of any energy diversification program, as more countries around the world invest heavily in nuclear (yes, even in the Mideast) and secondly the technology has other (civilian) uses BUT most significantly, enrichment is Iran’s sovereign right which is now at issue thank to the US pressures, and no country will abandon sovereign rights to suit external aggressors.

  4. PS – the reason the Fukishima reactor failed was not due to the earthquake but due to poor management – there had been numerous warnings ignored. Reactors can and are built to be earthquake proof. There are very large buildings containing hundreds of thousands of people everyday built in earthquake prone zones all over the world. This is technologically quite feasible and non-engineers should not opine about such things so willy-nilly.

    • Hear, hear – there were two other nuclear power plants that were also swamped by the same tsunami to the same degree, Fukushima Daini and Onagawa (Miyagi prefecture). Both shut down automatically. There generators and water pumps were better protected. Both were built after the one that “blew up” which was Fukushima Daiichi.

      • Give it up, guys. Nobody is falling for it. Fukushima was a world class disaster, and no it isn’t true that that kind of radiation is in our background all the time.

        Give us twenty years and we won’t need the damn things anyway.

        • In case you’ve not noticed nobody here has said that Juan.

          I’m all for giving up on nuclear, but not for reasons of hysteria from the mouth of Caldicott and her fellow travellers. Nor will I take any heed of guilt trip peddling Green Fundamentalists.

          Its interesting that those who rightfully rant and rail at the Tea Party and its supporters, resort to the same tenor of rhetoric when it comes to climate change. Perhaps because their sympathies lie at the other totalitarian extreme of the political spectrum.

    • “due to poor management”

      Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? A for-profit company will do anything to increase profits, and cutting costs for safety and maintenance are generally the first to go. You can call that “poor management”; the market calls it “genius.”

      Moreover, in the US, all commercial nuclear reactors are granted immunity for consequences, should anything go wrong. The federal government has pledged to be their insurer and pick up the tab. So – why spend anything on safety? There are no consequences to disaster!

      On top of that, all they’re doing is BOILING WATER. You can do that with a mirror or two and a reasonably sunny day.

  5. It’s too bad, isn’t it, that the US can’t get part of the Iran market for solar/wind? But, according to Republicans, “the United States can’t compete against China” in solar or wind technology. CAN’T compete. CAN’T. Wow.

    And Republicans want to make sure the US won’t even try to compete, by blocking loans, subsidies, and stimulus spending on green energy.

    And let’s not even mention that deep-seated antipathy they have against Iran, dating back, I guess to the 1970s.

    • America’s hated Iran since it killed Mossadegh many years ago.

      • That’s an absurdly confused statement.

        American ‘hatred’ for Iran was non-existant in the 1950s and played no part in that.

        it was the rather hate-filled Ruhollah Khomeini that brought Americans to hate Iran

        • The ayatollah’s came to power as a result of the shahs ruthlessness, not from a vacuum. It was AMERICA that installed the shah. They did this because they had (democratically elected) mossadegh assassinated.
          What does the DR in your name stand for

        • DR BLC, American foreign policy has been nothing but utter contempt for the peoples and citizens of multiple Middle Eastern nations (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine) as well as South American nations (Nicaragua is one that immediately comes to mind) in the past.

  6. There is just one problem with your reasoning. I agree that right now Iran is not seeking nuclear weapon, for several reasons but most importantly because they actually decrease Iran’s national security now. But Iran like to have the technology so it could be used later either as a weapon or in some other fields ( small reactors for future ships,plans,…) Anyway, it is a key technology and prevent further discrimination that country faced during past decades (Unfortunately, it is true, no one sell you sensitive techs so you have to work on them yourself.)

  7. Juan:
    This was a very timely posting, following on the remarks of Bijan Khajehpour (Atieh Group of Companies) at a NIAC event yesterday (10/4). One of Khajehpour’s concrete suggestions for US-Iranian engagement was for Washington to send an alternative energy delegation to Iran to talk about all forms of energy. It sounds like the Chinese have already stolen a march on the idea.

    As a proud Iowan, I also appreciated the references to windpower there. I admit to never considering how windpower reduces the threat of a preventive attack.

    Regards, Greg Thielmann

  8. Obviously, Iran should move rapidly toward wind and solar energy and give up on its nuclear program.

    Obviously?

    1) Juan Cole is not a credible source of policy advice for Iran. The Informed Comment weblog is just as hostile against Iran as Barack Obama’s US State Department.

    2) What’s presented here is a false dichotomy. Iran can, as it’s doing, pursue both its nuclear program and its wind and solar energy programs.

    3) Iran’s nuclear program is well understood to be very domestically popular. Numerous polls are unanimous on this point.

    4) Just giving up its nuclear program under US/Israeli/Western pressure would reward that pressure and encourage the US, Israel and Europe to apply pressure on other areas that, like its nuclear program are consistent with the views and values of the Iranian people.

    5) Just giving up its nuclear program would limit the options available to future generations of Iranian policy-makers. The non-nuclear weapons state negotiators of the NPT specifically ensured that the treaty would not limit their countries in that way. The Shah signed and ratified a treaty that did not limit the future options in the way Cole is suggesting and nobody has asked Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Canada or dozens of other countries that are not potential adversaries of Israel to limit their options in this way.

    Maybe the obvious advice should be going to the government you support and whose officials you participate in the elections of.

  9. Juan,
    If you go north of Zahedan a 100 kilometers, you can still find remnants of vertical windmills that were used to grind flour 70 or 80 years ago. This is the area of the ‘sixty day wind’. Lots of desert pavement in that area.
    Thank you for all the work you do.

  10. Thank you for an elegant vision of Iran. Those vast mountainous (& mystic!) spaces an ancient turbine there for the taking, and a Persian sun bearing down on vast grids of photovoltaic mosaics! If only those Theo-Oligarchs with their entrenched control & surveillance powers would allow for a Green Revolution (both in Tehran & Washington!).

  11. It’s not that the Chinese and Iranians are environmental saints.

    It’s that the world in general is passing America by, including its entire religion of faith-driven greed and cheap oil. We’re as ridiculous today as Great Britain’s tweedy self-aggrandizement and pathetic colonial maintenance wars were by the 1920s. Tourists must have been shocked to visit London back then, looking at undernourished people through a thick coal fog, and then thinking, “Wait, these guys rule the world?”

    Meanwhile, we look back at the rest of the world through a fog of Yankee corporate censorship, so we can’t understand how much progress is occurring. In fact, we can’t even call it progress because it is so antithetical to our dogmas. Our rulers don’t need Chinese-style Internet censorship, because our population censors itself from learning about the “outside”.

    • iran has already enriched enough Uranium to meets that need for quite some time and won’t find it difficult to obtain additional supplies in future if they abandon their enrichment program.

      • We just had a isotope deficiency scare here a year or so ago. Are you saying Iran has a more stable source than Canada? Really, what does the DR in your name stand for anyway?

  12. This is good for Iran, I hope the United States doesn’t wage a crusade to stop this venture from materialising.

  13. Iran is already ELECTRICITY INDEPENDENT; it doesn’t need solar & wind, any more than it needs nuclear. If it could import what it needs to rebuild its refineries it wouldn’t have to import transport fuels either, in which case it would be ENERGY INDEPENDENT.

    Here you’ll see the growth in Iran’s electricity production growth rate and the sources link to tradingeconomics.com

    Almost all of Iran’s new & planned electricity production comes from Iranian designed and Iranian built hydro and gas power plants. These are already low emission plants, the gas units are combined cycle units (CCU). This is presumably what Germany will do with the gas it gets from Russia via Nord Stream. CCU units use the kinetic energy from burning the gas to power turbine generators and the heat energy to power steam generators.

    China probably has its eye on Iran’s gas, via Afghanistan. It recently won the first Afghanistan oil/gas exploration auction and its building oil and gas pipelines from the western Caspian, across Kazakhstan, to its western (inner) provinces.

    Iran loses 38b KwH pa (19%) across its grid, China loses 196b (6%), the US loses 267b (6%), the Eurozone lose 125b (5%). Getting Iran’s grid losses down 6% would result in a reduction in its emissions equivalent to thousands of wind generators.

    Portugal’s so called “green revolution” was paid for by EU subsidies contributed by non Portuguese TAXPAYERS. Today the basket case Portuguese economy is being bailed out with money from guess who, non Portuguese TAXPAYERS. Contrary to the Green Fundamentalist Faith, very little money actually grows on trees.

    If Iran shelved its nuclear program today, it’s unlikely that the sanctions would be removed any time soon. How long has it been since there were any ICBM’s in Cuba – 49 years, almost to the day. The sanctions imposed then, remain in place to this very day.

    The most interesting thing in the Fars item was the last bit – the power swap deals Iran has with its neighbours.

    • You can’t have too much electricity. In the future, global investors will look at the energy security of the factories they want to build in deciding where to locate them.

      Maybe Iran just believes in supply-side economics?

  14. I would hope that Iran is smarter than to stop its nuclear enrichment if it’s learned its lesson from Libya. If you don’t have a deterrent, you have a war.

  15. What you say about Saudi Arabia and UAE with 4 nuclear reactor under construction in each . They have more space and sun for solar power generation. In fact nuclear energy is florishing in the Middel East and surronding with uner construction or planned nuclear reactors in Azarbaijan, four in Turkey, one in Jordan, 3 in Pakestan, 4 in UAE and 4 is Saudi Arabia. Iran has just one reactor under commissioning after 33 years of delay.

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