Car becoming something to be thrown away, says Nobel laureate
ASTANA. KAZINFORM - Rae Kwon Chung, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Kazinform correspondent why renewable energy sources are already becoming cheaper than fossil fuels, why we should abandon private cars, and how Kazakhstan can sell renewable energy abroad?
A question which worries many people and hinders green energy development: When will renewable energy be cheaper than fossil fuel?
Actually, the price difference between fossil fuel and renewable energy is getting closer and closer. In some places, renewable energy is already cheaper. For example, during a tender procedure in Abu Dhabi, it turned out that the price of energy generated by a large-scale solar farm is below that of coal energy. For coal power, it was around 5 cents for 1 kW*h, while the tender price for solar energy in Abu Dhabi solar farm was around 4 to 5 cents. So, it is even lower than a coal power plant. Therefore, renewable energy is getting even cheaper than depending on the scale.
But, on average, if the scale is small and if the land space is very expensive, the price is different. So, renewable energy prices depend on the location and the scale. It is difficult to say when it is going to be cheaper. It is very clear that renewable energy prices are getting lower and lower day by day. But, I think, to compete in the same situation, it will take 5 or 6 years. In some countries like Korea, for example in our case, the land is very expensive. So, it is very difficult to have a large-scale solar or wind farm. But, in a country like Kazakhstan, you have huge land spaces. Therefore, it will be almost free. In your case, you can have very low and competitive price for renewable energy.
How to rebuild cities for the switchover to renewable sources?
In many cities, we have been building cities not in a very sustainable way. For example, large new cities come up with replicating American style cities like Los Angeles, i.e. the big American city style where the main design, land planning is based on the concept that people will move around by driving a car rather than walking around. So, I think we should focus on the city based on the concept that people should walk around rather than drive around by car. This is a very important point for me because cities are consuming a lot of energy, wasting energy simply because of the congestion. Maybe you know, traffic congestion is everywhere in big cities. And this traffic congestion is actually wasting money and generation a lot of pollution for the people. So, it is very bad and we have to eliminate this pollution from transportation.
Therefore, the sustainability of mobility is very critical. We have to change the way we design our cities. One good example is Curitiba in Brazil where the city was designed from the beginning to minimize the driving of private cars. The city was designed like a circle and there are lines where public buses are going around. So, people do not have to drive any car as they all use buses to go to the downtown for shopping and other activities. We need to build this kind of concept of a sustainable city.
Now, many people are talking about a "smart city". But, a smart city needs a lot of digitalization, and it consumes a lot of energy as well. Also, digitalization cannot help solve the problem of congestion or pollution itself. So, when we build our city, we should build it very well based on the European city model rather than the American city model. For instance, in ancient times, our older cities were based on small areas, small streets where people were walking around. If you go to Europe, there are many cities with the downtown where streets are so small you cannot even drive a car because it was built a long time ago. So, people are walking around and there is no pollution. This is something we have to learn.
But, for a city that has already been built, we have to focus on, in my opinion, how to improve the transportation system, i.e. we have to invest in public transportation. That is very critical. Also, we have to invest into the energy efficiency of our buildings. As you see there are many buildings in cities. But, these buildings differ as per energy efficiency scale. If you have a very good insulation you can save a lot of energy. Buildings in many of the European cities have a very good insulation. In Germany and Denmark, buildings are so well insulated, they can use very little energy but still, they can maintain a very comfortable life. If the insulation is bad, all energy is lost through the walls, windows, and the ceiling, and you have to keep up with the energy in the building. We have to think about how to improve the energy efficiency of the building, like in zero-emission buildings. We have to minimize the waste, separate the garbage, and improve the recycling of the garbage. This is another important point.
According to my concept of "Apple City", an ecological city is a city where people walk and ride a bicycle rather than driving a car. So, now the private car is becoming our enemy. As for me, I do not drive a car. A car is becoming something to be thrown away. We should not rely on a car anymore. We have to design our city where people do not have to use a private car but only cycling or walking around as, for example, in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Turin. In all small cities, they walk, use bicycles, or public transportation because their streets are so small and it will cause much problem if you drive a car.
Do you see Astana as a "smart city"?
You can do it if you invest a lot into digitalization. But a smart city does not guarantee it will be a sustainable city. Sustainable city means improving the energy efficiency and renewable energy, reducing the garbage.
Kazakhstan is going to increase the share of renewable energy up to 30% in total electricity by 2030. Is this feasible?
I think Kazakhstan has set a very ambitious target for renewable energy. This is a very impressive target as compared to other countries with same economic development. For me, the feasibility depends on the government policy and the political leadership's commitment.
Whenever I come to Astana, I see that 20 years ago nobody believed it would become such a wonderful city. Maybe, you thought it is a crazy idea. But now, you see Astana is a great city. Green economy and green energy is the same thing. All depends on the vision you want to set for your future. At the forum, Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple, said what important is not technology, what important is motivation. Other words, motivation is vision and ambitions. If you want something it will really follow, just like Astana. Astana is a product of the vision you have.
Kazakhstan has all the elements for the success of renewable energy because you have a huge territory, which is an extra advantage. I recommend that Kazakhstan should be an exporter of renewable energy rather than fossil fuel. For instance, Mongolia also has a huge territory and the same advantage. Mongolia has ambitious plans to export solar and wind energy to China, Japan, and Korea. To me, Kazakhstan can do much better than Mongolia because you have a much better infrastructure, better technology and industry here. So I think Kazakhstan can do much better in exporting renewable energy to the world. It all depends on the vision, ambitions, target, and the political commitment.
Thank you so much for the interview!
Mr.Chung is Professor Emeritus at Incheon National University. He served as Principal Advisor on Climate Change to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and as Climate Change Ambassador of the Republic of Korea. As Director of Environment and Development Division (EDD) of ESCAP, Mr. Chung pioneered in 2005 the concept of Green Growth as an implementing strategy of sustainable development which could harmonize economic growth with environmental sustainability. Under his leadership, ESCAP has launched in 2012 a special report titled "The Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap" which could serve as bla ueprint for policymakers on Green Growth strategies. This Roadmap lays out specific policy options and compiled best practices and success stories of harnessing green policies as a driver of economic growth. In recognition of his contribution to the special report of IPCC on technology transfer, he received a personal copy of Nobel Peace Prize Award 2007 which was conferred to the IPCC.
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