Dr. Ling Wen

ling wen

He's CEO of Shenhua Energy, China's largest coal company and the second-largest coal company in the world. He predicts China's coal-based electricity generation will grow 20-30 percent annually over the next five years - China is building two new coal plants a week. In 2008, China's carbon emissions surpassed America's for the first time. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted Nov. 2, 2007.

“Yes, we consume energy, but we make the products not only for consumption in China but globally. So Chinese consumption of energy is an organic part of global economy.”

When people talk about China and coal, they think of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. What kind of plans do you have to address [that]?

It's a good question. As a coal-based energy company, we have a lot of things to do. Not only the CO2 issue -- we must make the environment better than before.

I mean, [in previous coal development here,] it was a desert -- no trees or grassland. But over 10 to 20 years, we have planted a lot of trees, grassland, so that the forestation now has been increased to 70 percent. In our underground coal mines, we have a system to reuse the waters so we can save more than 85 to 90 percent of total waters. ...

And in the western region, we have power plants' cooling systems [using] wind, the air, so that we can save a lot of water. I invite you to pay visit to our coal mines. Seeing is believing.

In our coalfields, although we are the largest coal company in China, you cannot see the coal everywhere, because we transport coal through the belt to the washing plant, and after the coal is put into the freight cars, we cover it so that there is not the coal dust --

You say all your plants have scrubbers to reduce or eliminate sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. What about greenhouse gases such as CO2? Do you have any IGCC [Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle]?

We have several projects now.

Research projects.

They're not only research. We have some feasibility studies to establish maybe several IGCC power plants. And [to] talk about this issue, I have personally discussed this issue with another CEO of GE Company, you know, Jeffrey Immelt, for more than one hour. And in talking about the IGCC, one thing is, it can reduce the total pollution, but it cannot solve the problem of this CO2 issue.

It's a first step.

Correct, it's a first step. I have paid visit in Tampa, [Fla.,] to a power plant, IGCC. But it's not a successful commercial case. It loses money. So how to make IGCC more successful is a problem, not only in China but in the developed countr[ies].

So the problem is that IGCC costs money, and then capturing and storing carbon dioxide costs money?


You hope to offset that with some sales of hydrogen that come out of that process?


But at this point, it wouldn't be profitable for you as a company to gasify coal, to use IGCC and then to capture carbon?


But here's the question people have. They say, "Look, maybe it's going to cost more, but what's the cost of more carbon dioxide in the environment?"

Yes. The first thing is, can we make the operation more efficient, large scale, so that we can reduce any cost? Maybe it can save the money. The second thing is, what jobs should be supported by the government?


Correct. It's a very good incentive for us so that we can adopt IGCC, this clean power.

So let me ask you this. When do you expect -- cost aside -- when could you capture and store all the carbon dioxide that your thousands of power plants are generating?

I cannot give you that prediction. The first thing is, it's not a major business model. And globally, there is no successful large commercial example. So it's not only us.

The first thing is we should have the feasibility study. The second thing is we must have some direction from the government, right? And the third thing is we must be responsible for all of the shareholders. We must create money, not lose the money. It's my responsibility as a CEO of this company.

Your responsibility is to the shareholders.

First, to all of the shareholders; second, to the society -- we must be responsible for society; and third, to all of our employees in our operation. You know, I'm so happy to tell you that from Jan. 1 till today, no coal miners died in our coal mines. It's a very good record, you know, in China.

You said that your first responsibility as a CEO is to the shareholders, second to the public. Why not public first?

Maybe they're the same. But, you know, if all of the shareholders say, "Oh, see, Dr. Ling, the CEO, could you make your first responsibility to the public, then to all the shareholders?" it's OK. But I'm afraid maybe all the shareholders cannot accept this concept.

So this is really the structure of a modern corporation, that the shareholders are first priority? In other words, your owners come first?

I can tell you yes, because, you know, it's all the shareholders. They elect the board of directors and the CEO. And they give us the first task, [which] is to create the values for shareholders. But also, I think the concepts for the shareholders, the first thing is you cannot do something bad to the society. And the second tier is, could you make some good things [for] the society?

I noticed in reading through your Web site and in this book that there is no mention of greenhouse gases, climate change.

Yes, because we have the restriction -- all of our operations must be in compliance with the listing rules both [in] Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Well, this is a brochure, I think, and there's no mention in there of climate change or greenhouse gases. Aren't they major public concerns even in China, climate change, greenhouse gases?

It's an issue, but it's not the most important issue --

What's the most important issue to the general public?

The first thing maybe is not CO2, but the consumer rate for the cost of electricity, to generate each kilowatt [hour] of power. What's the amount for the consumption?

In the West, developed countries, there's great worry about China's growth rate and future consumption and future emissions.

I know that.

Currently, China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world as a nation -- not per capita, but as a nation. And there's great concern that if China continues to grow and develop as it is, that the world's carbon dioxide emissions are going to doom us. As the chief of a large coal-burning electric utility, how do you answer these concerns?

My question is, among the Western companies, in the very beginning of growing, did you have the industry [involved] in that CO2 issue?

No one knew about it.

No. The second question is, do you have a very good solution for captur[ing] the CO2, [storing] the CO2 in the power generation? Successful commercial example? Maybe not. So, how to say -- I mean, a developing country like China, we have only 20 or 30 years. We have the open market systems to reaffirm the systems only 20 or 30 years.

And we have a very good solution for Chinese economy, you know. We have a very good economy. And we have all of the Chinese people. They have enough food to eat, clothes and the basics [of] human life. We have done that. So it's a most important thing, I think, for the Chinese government to do, and --

In other words, the most important thing for the Chinese government is to ensure economic security?

To ensure all of the Chinese people, we have enough food to eat, we have --

Shelter, clothes --

Yes. It's the basic and the most important thing. And the Chinese government has done that. Also, talking about the CO2 issue as a responsible company, I think we will do our best to reduce the CO2 pollution if we can.

But how to say, as a CEO of this company, we must consider other issues. ... In my personal decisions, I have give[n] the instruction to the research people, could you make your project move fast? And now, if we can make commercial sense out of the project, we will do that.

And if you can't make commercial sense of it? Is the government pressuring you to come up with answers?

Generally speaking, the government will encourage all the power companies to reduce the pollutions, yes. But if I can make some request to the government, and I will want to say, could you first give us [the] general techniques to have a good, successful commercial case, and also to give us a correct tariff policy for that to encourage all of our power companies to solve the problem [of] CO2?

Are you familiar with Mike Morris? He's the head of American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio.

I'm sorry, no.

He has recently come out and asked for an import tax against Chinese exporters who are not doing enough to address the CO2 issues.

I'm sorry, I don't know.

It's to punish Chinese companies.

I think if this policy is for all of the power companies, not only in China but globally, every coal company has the same standard, I think, is politic --

A level playing field.

Yes. If it is to all of the power plants.

Do you think China is being unfairly blamed for CO2 emissions?

Yes. It's my personal view.


Because, you know, you cannot ask a country like China -- 30 years ago, we have no sufficient personal income; we have no cars; we have no sufficient food to eat. I mean, only 30 years -- very short time, I mean, as compared to the Western companies, Western companies' countries, where you have more than 100 years' or even 200 years' history.

After 200 years' development, you have the Western economy. So you find that, CO2 is very critical issue. But we have had only 30 years [development], and we have already done what we can do now.

Here's the problem as they describe it. They say if China develops over the next 100 years in the way that the United States has developed, the coral reefs will die, the ice caps will melt, the Himalayan glaciers will melt. A whole host of other serious crises will occur. So you're correct that in some ways it's not fair, because China has only for 30 years been on a development course, whereas the United States has had 150 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But in a sense, the climate doesn't care. The climate is going to change if China continues on this development course, according to the world scientists.

Nonetheless, can I make analogies in a different way? It's not a single economy. It's part of globalization economy. Yes, we consume energy, but we make the products, not only for consumption in China, but globally.

In other words, it's Americans and Europeans and other people who are buying your goods.

Correct. And the second point: Can we say, "Stop the argument"? We can do something; we should do, and we can do. If you -- I mean the United States or U.K. or European countries -- bring us successful techniques, successful equipment, a successful commercial example for this capture of CO2 and storage, we have the technical communications and [can] encourage the local company in China. We can adapt that kind of techniques, equipments. And we are so happy to accept that kind of support, equipment, techniques and some business model.

So if it's everybody we face the same problems, this CO2 problem is not only China's problem. And if Chinese economy, Chinese energy sector keep this level of the CO2 pollution, maybe you are correct, [that] something bad will happen.

But it will happen -- the influence, not only on China but on [all] human beings. If that [is] the case, I think, why [doesn't] everybody [work on] the same things to solve this CO2 problem. Not an argument and a hostile policy to only China -- it's not a good way, I think.

How much of your profit is invested in IGCC and carbon capture and storage research?

How to say? No, can I give you background information for the construction cost for power plant? If we adopted the traditional, traditional power plant, I mean, to burn the fire and to generate the power, it will need 4,000 RMB [renminbi], average speaking. But [if] we adopt single IGCC, it will double it; 8,000 RMB. And if we have some CO2 capture process above this IGCC, it will maybe triple; I mean, maybe 12,000 or even 15,000.

Editor's note: The renminbi is roughly translated as "the people's currency"; the yuan is the official unit of currency.

So it will triple or quadruple your costs.

Yes. So some of the costs comes from the equipment supplier overseas, right? Techniques, etc. So we are trying to get some local equipment supplier, some local technique supplier to reduce this kind of cost.

Personally, how concerned about climate change are you?

My personal opinion is everybody in this earth, we do the same things. We have the same standard, things that [are] not specific to China, same standard. And we are so happy to do these things. I mean, everybody have the same responsibility.

We should be responsible for all of this, for whole human beings. If same standard, same effort, we try our best, we think first it should be fair. And second, we are so happy to accept that concept. And third thing is, we think [if] everybody [does] the same things globally, we can solve the problem of CO2. We think we can. We are so confident about that.

Thank you very much. And I look forward to visiting again and seeing your operation --

Yes. And our coal mine and our real power plant, yeah.

And maybe next time I can come and see an IGCC commercial --

Oh, maybe a little later. Maybe I think in several years. Maybe one year; well, maybe two year[s], three year[s] later.

Maybe 20 years. (Laughter.)

Oh, it's a bad thing if 20 years.

I talked to Michael Morris, who's the CEO of AEP [American Electric Power], which is America's largest utility, and he says not before 2020.

OK. Not before?


I mean, if you want my personal prediction in China, maybe 2010. Between 2010 to 2020.

Will have IGCC.

Yeah, we have success.

With capture?

With capture, maybe 20, maybe 20. Personal feeling, 2014, 2015 maybe. And maybe we can do it better.

posted october 21, 2008

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