University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
More power to the people

     Sheepherders and farmers in rural China don't want much by
American standards. They'd like to have running water, electric
lights, some sort of refrigeration and, maybe, black-and-white
televisions in their homes. Rural schools, hospitals and other
institutions have the same modest requests.
     But, even though China is experiencing a burgeoning
prosperity, what has been described as "cowboy capitalism," rural
areas have been slow to receive the coveted trappings of
modernity-largely due to the problem of supplying electricity.
     Much of rural China consists of vast land masses with
populations scattered throughout in small villages. The
government, the supplier of electricity, has said it realizes
that electrification is the key to progress. But, it's reported,
the government also is aware that the cost would be prohibitive
for running and maintaining electrical wires over miles of grass
and farmland to villages of only a few hundred people.
     That's where the University's Center for Energy and
Environmental Policy (CEEP) comes in.
     In 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy contracted with CEEP
to do a national assessment of China's resources and economy to
determine how and where renewable energy generation is feasible.
Renewable energy includes both solar- and wind-generated power
and may be more cost-effective than extending the electric grid
to these areas, according to CEEP director John Byrne.
     The first part of the study will be completed next month,
Byrne says. "We now know there are three areas that have the best
resources and economic characteristics for solar and wind
power-Tibet, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia," he says.
     Byrne, a professor in the College of Urban Affairs and
Public Policy, his research assistant Bo Shen and other
researchers working on the project, say they decided to begin
information-gathering in Inner Mongolia because it has the most
aggressive renewable energy program and the region typifies rural
     According to the CEEP study, Inner Mongolia has a land mass
of more than 463,000 square miles, nearly twice the size of
Texas. Because most of the area is flat grassland, there is
little to interfere with the intensity of the wind or the sun.
     Its 22 million people, mostly farmers and herders, are among
the poorest of China. Approximately 300,000 households are still
without electricity.
     CEEP's figures show that, in the 38 years that the rural
electrification program has existed, 110,000 wind turbines and
3,800 solar panel systems have been installed, bringing
electricity to 100,000 households. At that rate, it will take 114
years to electrify the rest of the region.
     Another problem is that the devices now used produce only
about 300 kilowatt hours of electricity per household per year.
In contrast, the average U.S. household uses 7,200 kilowatt hours
annually. The inefficiency of some of the devices also has
diminished the benefit.
     CEEP's job has been to find a way to improve the efficiency
of the individual and community units, as well as a way to help
individuals and communities pay for the devices.
     Byrne says that, up until now, they've been using only one
type of generator-either solar or wind. But, according to Shen,
strong winds experienced in some seasons diminish when the sun is
intense. If only one system is being used, efficiency falls off
when the other system would be more effective.
     Another stumbling block is money.
     According to Byrne, devices now are purchased for cash. The
Inner Mongolia government provides cash incentives of between $30
and $40 per device, but the money must be paid up front. With the
average Mongolian earning $12.50 per month and a 300-watt wind
device selling for around $600 and a 100-watt solar system for
nearly $800, the problem is clear.
     "We'll have to come up with a financing plan so they will be
able to buy the machines sooner," Byrne says.
     One of the ideas the Delaware researchers have considered is
to calculate the money saved by the utility by not running wire
to these villages and then deducting those costs from the
purchase price of the wind and solar devices.
     Byrne says Inner Mongolia's goal is to have the entire
region electrified with renewables by the year 2000.
     CEEP, the government of China, the U.S. Department of Energy
and solar and wind device manufacturers in both countries say
they hope the study will lead to a brighter future for rural
China and a new and vigorous market for solar and wind
                                         -Barbara Garrison