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Evaluation of Germany’s Reaction to The European Energy Crisis

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The Russo-Ukrainian crisis, which started on 24 February 2022, brought war back to Europe. This war has visibly impacted the energy nerve of Europe as Russia is the primary exporter of energy, for – Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), oil and solid fossil fuel. Germany, in particular, had maintained a pro-longed diplomatic front in a bid to continue its energy trade which is largely dependent on Russia. Europe’s dependence on LNG and oil imports from Russia has highlighted the need for Europe to diversify its energy trade. The attack on Ukraine by Russia has invited several sanctions against the latter, together with steering the discussion towards the urgent need to branch out in the LNG and oil global supply market. Similarly, in the context of India, there might be some lessons to draw to prevent such a situation which might arise due to the concentration of the energy trade from only particular countries.

The pursual of NATO membership by Ukraine, an erstwhile Soviet state, and the refusal of western states to adhere to Vladimir Putin’s demand to bar Ukraine and other post-Soviet states from being included within NATO, are central to spurring the Ukrainian Crisis. After Putin recognised “the non-government controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (administrative regions) in Ukraine as independent entities and sent Russian troops into these areas,” he launched his military invasion of Ukraine on the aforementioned date. Following the invasion, the European Union (EU) imposed several restrictive measures and economic sanctions against Russia and her allies. However, Europe too is feeling the ripples of these sanctions, as the EU depends on Russia for almost 40 per cent of its total gas consumption, and it “accounted for around 45% of the EU’s gas imports in 2021 and almost 40% of its total gas consumption.”

The case for European Energy Diversification

The EU is one of the largest importers of natural gas globally.  The case for diversifying energy dependency is more specific to certain European countries, particularly Germany. The post-World War II German idea of pacifism is a prudent attempt at maintaining peace and cooperation in the region. Germany has been a strong advocate of relying on diplomacy to resolve any conflicts in the area. An example of this is the visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Russia on 15 February 2022, to attempt to negotiate a diplomatic solution between Russia and Ukraine. His visit aimed to revive the Minsk Agreement, where Germany had participated at the negotiations table along with France, Russia and Ukraine. This however, was unsuccessful as Russia was not keen on any talks regarding the situation. Further, even domestically, Scholtz was met with criticism for his inability to negotiate a deal. The leading LNG suppliers to Germany are “Russian piped gas led imports  at 32 percent followed by Norway at 20 per cent and the Netherlands at 12 per cent.” Germany’s LNG imports are used in heating homes, industries, manufacturing, as fuel, and to generate 15.3 per cent of its electricity in 2021, as per the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW).” It is hence a crucial step to look toward diversifying the source of fossil fuel requirements for Germany and other European states, away from Russian shores. Among the other EU member states, Italy is in the second place when it comes to dependency level on the Russian gas supply as it buys “about one-quarter (24 percent) of Russia’s total natural gas exports worth $5.8bn.”

For Europe, especially Germany and the other countries most dependent on Russian energy imports, part of the answer will be to stop looking north in Russia’s direction and start looking south to Africa. As the United States and other EU countries continued to impose increased sanctions on Russia as well as provide weapons and tactical support to Ukraine, Germany had been remarkably non-committal on offering military assistance. German Chancellor Scholz continued to reiterate that his country’s foreign policies were attuned with those of Europe and the NATO, but also prevented third party countries like Estonia from supplying German-origin weapons to Ukraine. Scholz held that Germany would never favour providing lethal weapons to other countries. The common public and the domestic opposition heavily criticised Scholz for this perceived diplomatic failure

However, focused international pressure from the global West to act more proactively has compelled Germany to make a U-turn in their policy regarding Ukraine. It declared his decision to suspend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, that “is owned by a company in which the Russian state has a controlling stake. Additionally, Germany Chancellor Scholz announced that “$113bn (£84bn) for the German army” and committed to meeting the target of NATO military spending of 2 per cent.  The German government also announced that it would send in “1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems to Ukraine.  [It also] authorised the Netherlands to send Ukraine four hundred (400) German-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and asked Estonia to ship over nine Howitzers.” Besides increasing military spending, Germany also sided with the European Union’s decision to suspend seven Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system for global financial transactions, baring the ones associated with energy, from the SWIFT messaging system for global financial transactions. The Polish Prime Minister was critical of this decision by the EU to exempt Sberbank and Gazprombank from sanctions. Although China and Russia have set up their own alternative platforms, around 70 per cent of the transactions continue to be conducted through the SWIFT system. 

Alternate or Plausible avenues of energy

The International Energy Agency (IEA) came out with the “10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas” which highlighted, among others, not signing newer contracts with Russia; looking for newer suppliers; alternate sources of energy; and opting for low-emission, clean and efficient alternatives, like nuclear energy and wind energy. The adoption of energy efficiency measures was also suggested in homes and industries. These objectives are in line with the EU Green Deal to reduce emissions in the future. 

Over the course of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, Europe’s reliance on its energy trade from Russia might face numerous threats. Any sudden halting of the LNG pipelines would be catastrophic for the German economy.  The primary pipelines, originating from Russia, on which Europe depends are the “Yamal-Europe, which crosses Belarus and Poland to reach Germany, and the Nord Stream 1, which goes directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea.” 

Source – US Energy Information Administration

In the case of France, it derives less than 20 per cent of its energy needs through LNG, with nuclear energy alone constituting 70 per cent. As the dependence on the energy trade with Russia through LNG pipelines is under the international community’s close radar, pressure has been building on Europe to diversify either its source of energy supply or look at alternate sources of energy because of the sky-rocketing prices. The US ban on Russian oil imports and subsequent calls of diversifying and phasing out oil and gas imports from Russia, all amidst the Ukrainian crisis, has affected the sharp climb of energy prices. There is also the fear of Russia closing the fuel pipelines as a reaction to the sanctions against it, as well as the military support provided to Ukraine. While addressing the German Economic Minister Robert Habeck, Stefan Liebing, the chair of the German-African Business Association, urged Habeck to consider exporting LNG from “African countries such as Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt and Angola, which could help free Europe from its dependence on Russian gas.” Algeria is a major supplier of LNG to Europe, with substantial reserves. It supplies Italy and Spain through its undersea pipelines and has an LNG terminal. From there, natural gas could be transported to Germany via pipelines. The Libyan gas field are another source of energy supply connected to Italy. There has been talks to develop the Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline Project to supply the required energy from offshore gas fields of Italy to Europe.

Source – Deutsche Welle

The major natural gas reserves lie with Nigeria, which contains about a third of Africa’s reserves. The Trans-Saharan pipeline, which could supply around 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Nigeria, is “equivalent to about two-thirds of Germany’s 2021 imports from Russia”. It has been proposed to join the existing LNG pipelines such as the “Trans-Mediterranean, Maghreb-Europe, Medgaz, and Galsi pipelines that supply Europe from transmission hubs on Algeria’s Mediterranean coast.” The Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline in Algeria “conveys natural gas through Morocco to Spain and Portugal, and the Medgaz pipeline links Algeria directly to Spain.” However, the operationalisation of the Trans-Saharan pipelines, which are still in the initial stage, would take some time to fill the energy gap for Europe in the short run. Alternatively, Nigeria holds around 200 trillion cubic-foot reserves of gas and is a great option for exporting gas to Europe. This energy rush has led to a subsequent worldwide increase in the price of goods and delays in the supply chain.

Europe also relies on shipping for LNG imports from West Africa.  Yet, in the case of Germany, it doesn’t have any LNG import terminals. Similarly, LNG loading ports with floating liquification plants can be used to transport offshore gas to LNG tankers, such as in the Greater Torture Ahmeyin field. African states with huge gas reserves also see the opportunity of widening the energy market to “fill the gap of around 150-190 billion cubic metres caused by the Russian energy.” It is also important to secure the energy supply from terrorist activities and violence caused by armed groups in the region, which leads to insecurity and instability in supply. An example of this is Mozambique, in the Cabo Delgado area, that has deep reserves of gas. The importance of security of supplies was reiterated by the Economy Minister of Germany, Robert Habeck, who also signalled the necessity to diversify resources and has delayed Germany’s plan to go carbon neutral, by looking towards nuclear energy and coal.

Additionally, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), which had been initiated by the European Commission, would be linking the Caspian Sea to markets in Europe, and aims to increase and diversify European energy supply.” It was stated to be capable of supplying 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) by the end of 2020, which had the potential to be expanded later. Similarly, other gas pipelines connecting Central Asia and the Mediterranean region are “the Trans Anatolia Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans-Adriatic-Pipeline (TAP) to transport gas from Azerbaijan to Italy via Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea, by listing them on the PCI [Project of Common Interest] lists.” 

The United States of America has proposed to relax sanctions on Venezuela to open up alternate routes for energy trade. Qatar has also been identified as a supplier of energy to Europe. However, Qatar has clarified that it is operating presently at full operational capacity limit, and thereby cannot replenish the complete requirement of European countries who previously traded with Russia for gas. Hence, this makes the diversification of the energy needs of a country more significant. 

Even within the EU, the stress has been on expanding the supply of energy and building new LNG terminals and interconnectors. The rise in LNG supply prices has led to unintentional stress in the shipping industry, as it has also brought global production outages and shipping delays. LNG cargoes headed for Asia through the maritime routes have been rerouted to European ports to cater to consumers willing to shell out a larger sum, amidst the surge in gas prices. This has also led to stockpiling of LNG resources to prepare for the next winter in Europe, where gas is crucial in heating homes. Shell and Total, the leading gas and oil agencies, have been working on regularising the flow of gas tankers from the US, Nigeria and Qatar, towards Asian markets. This is because Europe is well connected by LNG pipelines and can be substituted, when necessary, with cargoes from other sources. Besides, Japan and South Korea are the major importers in the Asian market, and Japan makes use of LNG to meet the energy gap from nuclear energy production.

LNG imported through LNG terminals is manner of diversification from pipelines.  Furthermore, the European Commission had presented the EU Strategy for LNG and gas storage in 2016, which talked of improving energy security and diversification of sources of supply. But due to the limited supply by Russia, Europe had lesser storage of gas even in the winter months. A limitation of this is that there can be only a finite amount of storage to be kept in contingency for the next winter. In the case of Germany, the German President, while addressing the German Parliament, revealed that Germany would increase their gas storage capacity up to 2 bcm and would import gas in coordination with the EU.

As gas imports have gradually reduced, in addition to the sabotage on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in September, Germany has opted to diversify its energy resources. European LNG-dependent European states have started concentrating on other avenues for energy generation. Wind energy and solar energy are seen as promising alternates to LNG and oil, though with the caveat of being dependent on weather conditions. However, these would require an ample amount of energy backup. The usage of coal for power generation purposes has been proposed as an option to decrease the dependence on Russian energy. Despite coal being known as the dirtiest fossil fuel, there has been the push towards its usage for electricity generation.  In the short term, it is seen as a viable option to substitute the continent’s gas needs. Russia has also been the biggest supplier of coal to Europe, nudging states in Europe towards Colombia, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and the U.S. Despite the sanctions being imposed, shipments of coal from Russia were still being sent to the U.K., Germany and Latvia. 

Nuclear energy is another alternative energy generation method which Europe could expand on, and in 2022 it accounted for 24.6 per cent of electricity produced in the EU. Europe has pledged to phase out the dependence on Russian energy imports by 2030 according to the Versailles Declaration, and to develop “three key dimensions: a) Bolstering […] defence capabilities; b) Reducing […] energy dependencies; and c) Building a more robust economic base.” However, that goal can only be met in the long term.

In the case of Germany, as the energy crisis is deepening its impact on its economy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has authorised the country’s three remaining nuclear power plants to continue working through mid-April 2023. The initial plan was to phase out the rest of the nuclear power plants by the end of 2022. The picture below depicts the nuclear power plants of Germany, which are Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland.

Sites of Germany’s Nuclear Power Stations

Mr Olaf Scholaz from the Social Democrat (SDP) had to overrule his part’s alliance partner the Greens oppositions of the operation of the three nuclear power plants. However, as nuclear energy accounts for six per cent of Germany’s energy sources, the option of nuclear energy can not be done away with. The chancellor also requested that ministries produce a viable law to increase energy efficiency and establish a phase-out of coal by 2030. In order to secure the security of the energy supply, Scholz also stressed on the development of new hydrogen-capable gas plants. Russia’s energy supply failure forced Germany to change the composition of its energy mix.

It can be reiterated that to ensure the energy security of a country, it is crucial to diversify its energy imports for the smooth functioning of the economic activities and domestic needs of a state. Additionally, to mitigate climate related crisis in the long-term, it is also important to attempt to diversify towards greener and more sustainable sources of energy generation.  

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Centre for Air Power Studies.

Shayesta Nishat Ahmed is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, India. She completed her M.Phil from the Centre for International Politics, Organization, Diplomacy and Disarmament (CIPOD), Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her PhD thesis at the same centre looks at the pursuit of nuclear sea-based deterrence among major nuclear powers. She can be contacted at nish.shayes[at]gmail.com

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Energy

Massive Lying About the War in Ukraine

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The chief purpose of the Western sanctions against Russia, after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, has been to stop Russia’s sales of energy — mainly pipelined Russian gas — to Europe. Russia had been the top supplier of energy to Europe, because its energy was by far the cheapest in Europe. It was the least expensive to produce and sell to Europe, largely because it was pipelined into Europe whereas other suppliers needed to containerize and ship their gas and oil to Europe — which is far costlier to do. In all of Europe, virtually the only energy that is pipelined comes from Russia. Therefore, the sanctions that prohibited Russian energy to be supplied to Europe caused energy-prices in Europe to soar.

However, Western ‘news’-media don’t blame the sanctions for Europe’s soaring energy-prices, because those sanctions come from the U.S. and have the cooperation and participation by European governments. Here are the main ‘causes’ of Europe’s soaring energy-prices according to U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media (and you will see examples from Western Governments and ‘news’-media there simply by clicking onto each one of these phrases, each one of which is linked):

“Russia’s cutting off the gas to Europe”

“Russia strangling Europe”

“Russia’s energy war”

“Putin’s energy weapon” 

So: each of those ‘news’-media is routinely lying to their audience in order to place the blame for Europe’s soaring fuel-prices upon the Government of Russia, instead of upon the Government of America and upon its various vassal-Governments in Europe that constitute together the EU. 

In addition to using those lying phrases, U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media use distractionary and misleading ‘explanations’ of the soaring prices. For example, the American and German-owned Politico ‘news’-site headlined “Why cheap US gas costs a fortune in Europe”, and ‘explained’ that “The liquefied natural gas (LNG) loaded on to tankers at U.S. ports costs nearly four times more on the other side of the Atlantic, largely due to the market disruption caused by a near-total loss of Russian deliveries following the invasion of Ukraine.” What caused that “near-total loss of Russian deliveries” isn’t so much as even discussed in their ‘news-report’, and the word or even concept of “sanction” doesn’t even appear once in the article. That’s how propaganda — NOT news — is done. Their ‘news’-report instead discusses whether the U.S. suppliers, or instead the European middlemen to whom they sell American liquefied natural gas, is to blame, but, of course, all such discussion is distractionary, instead of at all explanatory, of the question “Why cheap US gas costs a fortune in Europe”. This is the way to deceive Europeans into re-electing their politicians who serve U.S. billionaires instead of European consumers.

A comedic, but also extremely informative, documentation of the absurd extent to which U.S.-and-allied Governments and media go in order to pretend that these cut-offs of Europe’s least-costly energy are due to Russia instead of to the U.S. can be seen in the 8-minute video by Matt Orfalea, “Who Blew Up Nord Stream Pipelines? | A Mystery!”

To see some of the many OTHER tricks that U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media use in order to deceive Europeans to vote for the politicians in these U.S.-vassal-nations (propagandistically called U.S. ‘allies’, instead), I have provided many more examples in my prior “Debunking Lies About the War in Ukraine”. That article, combined with this one, presents a fully documented (in the links) and comprehensive picture of European Governments as serving U.S. billionaires instead of European consumers. If what it says is true — and you can easily decide that for yourself by clicking onto any link anywhere that you doubt what is being alleged there — then you will know that your Government doesn’t care about you, at all, and is instead serving America’s billionaires, at your considerable expense.

In order to keep those U.S.-and-‘allied’ weapons flowing to Ukraine so that America can defeat Russia in the battlefield of Ukraine by using Ukraine’s army instead of America’s soldiers, the lies that have been documented here need to be believed by Europeans — and they are (or at least have been) believed by Europeans. The tricks have been working, thus far.  

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Oil Price Threshold: Action and Reaction

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The introduction of a price threshold for Russian oil has been discussed for several months. The idea was announced back in early September in a statement by the finance ministers of the G7 countries. Its essence was to prohibit the transportation of Russian oil and oil products by sea in the event that the contract price exceeds a predetermined price level. Along with transportation, there are related services—insurance, financing, brokerage services, etc. A “price threshold coalition” was formed, which, along with the members of the G7, included Australia and the EU member states.

Washington, London and Brussels have already developed legal mechanisms for the new restrictions. On December 5, oil price restrictions should come into force, and in February, they are expected to be applied to oil products. The initiators of the sanctions expect attempts to circumvent new sanctions and are trying to cement possible loopholes in advance. What kind of workarounds are expected among the Western countries, and what are the chances they’ll be able to impose a price cap on other countries?

The price threshold for oil is a relatively new and non-standard variety of economic sanctions. The most common and universal instrument of modern sanctions are restrictions on exports and imports, as well as blocking sanctions. The latter entails a ban on any financial transactions with individuals or organisations included in the lists of blocked persons. The Russian oil industry has already faced a wide range of export and import restrictions. The US, EU, UK and a number of other countries have introduced or are gradually introducing bans on the supply of oil and petroleum products from Russia. They have largely blocked the supply of equipment for the domestic energy sector. Even before the start of the special military operation, a number of large Russian oil companies were subject to sectoral restrictions in the form of a ban on long-term lending and a ban on deliveries in the interests of individual projects. It turned out to be more difficult to impose blocking sanctions. A number of top managers and major shareholders of Russian oil assets were included in the lists of blocked persons. However, the West did not dare to block the companies themselves; Russia is too large a supplier of oil to the world market. Blocking the financial transactions of Russian suppliers would lead to a panic in the market and an astronomical rise in prices. Collateral damage is the only thing stopping the West from blocking Russian oil companies.

A price cap was proposed as a softer measure. The US and its partners are betting on the fact that Western companies control significant volumes of transportation and insurance. They are also betting on the dominance of the US dollar in global financial markets. Russian producers are being driven towards a situation in which they will either have to sell oil within the price threshold, or it will simply not be delivered. In addition, such cargo will not be insured, and financial transactions involving banks from the “threshold coalition” will become impossible. Moscow has already threatened to stop supplies to those countries that go ahead and implement the decisions of the “coalition”. But the “coalition” itself has largely given up on Russian oil anyway. India, China and other friendly countries may not join, but Western carriers will not deliver Russian oil there.

The initiators of the sanctions expect a number of schemes to be attempted to circumvent the new measures. The first is the formal observance of the price threshold, but manipulations with the price of transportation or other related services. The US Treasury is warning carriers, insurers, bankers and other market participants in advance that commercially unreasonable rates will be considered a sign that the price cap regime is being violated. The concept of commercial justification is not disclosed, but the signal itself is fixed. Another possible circumvention option is the distortion of documentation, which can take place both on the supplier’s side and be the result of collusion between the supplier and the carrier. In this case, carriers are recommended to keep all the documentation of the transaction for five years, and insurance and other service providers must have a clause in contracts that the oil being transported is below the price threshold. The presence of such archives does not insure against violation in itself. But it allows the regulator, in case of suspicion, to quickly check the history of transactions. Companies can get off relatively lightly for unintentional violations, but deliberate circumvention is fraught with criminal prosecution. Another way around is to mix Russian oil with an oil of a different origin. So far, clear criteria for such proportions have not been defined, although the US Treasury calls for caution in such transactions. In determining these proportions, the EU may take into account the clarifications of the European Commission on mixtures subject to import restrictions.

The experience of US law enforcement practice shows that there will be violations of the sanctions regime, and US regulators have developed mechanisms for detecting them. The EU and the UK have less experience, which does not exclude the active prosecution of violators. However, the indicated methods of circumvention still seem to be “mouse fuss”, which will not systematically solve the problem for Russia. In Moscow, much more ambitious steps can be developed.

The most obvious measure is to build up Russia’s own tanker fleet. Reports of such steps have appeared in the foreign media, although reliable estimates are difficult. In the hands of the US, the EU and other initiators, there is a means to counteract. They can simply add Russian oil tankers to the lists of blocked ships. Then their service in foreign ports will be significantly hampered. Secondary American sanctions and fines are feared even in friendly countries. The experience of secondary US sanctions being used against the Chinese COSCO Shipping Tanker and some other companies for the alleged transportation of Iranian oil in 2019 can serve as a warning. The European Union has also provided for a mechanism to punish ships carrying Russian oil above the price ceiling. Violating ships will be denied financial, insurance and other services in EU jurisdiction. The wording of paragraph 7 of Art. 3n of EU Council Regulation No 833/2014 suggests that we are talking about any ship, regardless of the country of origin.

Similar problems may also arise when a Russian insurance company is set up to serve bulk oil shipments, or if one or another company from friendly countries is involved. Here, the United States and its allies also have the instrument of secondary sanctions in their hands. The same goes for financial transactions. Operations in the currencies of the initiating countries will be blocked. Here again the question of settlements in national currencies comes to the fore. The big question is, whether the banks in friendly countries run the risk of the same secondary sanctions in case of transactions above the price threshold. The legal mechanisms for such sanctions specifically for the price threshold have not yet been spelled out. However, they may appear at any moment, or the initiating countries, primarily the United States, may provide an explanation of the application of already existing norms to the price threshold. This happened recently with explanations of possible sanctions for using the Mir payment system in the interests of blocked persons.

In the bottom line, the participants of the “threshold coalition” do not have to seek the entry of more countries into their ranks. It is enough to threaten with secondary sanctions or coercive measures in case of revealed violations, or simply block insurance services or financial transactions passing through Western insurance companies and banks in violation of the prescribed norms.

By building up pressure on the Russian oil sector, the US and other initiators of sanctions will use their rich experience of restrictions against Iran. At one time, Washington managed to “globalise” its ban on the import of Iranian oil and services related to such imports. Iran continues to survive under the sanctions, although it has suffered losses. There is no doubt that Russia will also retain efficient ways to supply its oil to foreign markets. However, as in the case of Iran, the sanctions will increase the cost of Russian oil exports.

From our partner RIAC

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Analyzing China Solar Energy for Poverty Alleviation (SEPAP) Program

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photo:Xinhua

In 2014, China deployed a large-scale initiative named as Solar Energy Poverty Alleviation Program (SEPAP) to systematically alleviate poverty in poor areas including underdeveloped regions of western China. In recent years, moving the country toward technological leadership and making China the largest solar investor has been on Government’s central Agenda. While having environmental benefits associated, SEPAP is a multi-purpose project which aims to reduce poverty, promote jobs and income in rural areas, boost China’s solar market, and improve rural lives. It is noteworthy that SEPAP is a program that has harmonized the social, developmental, and industrial goals. SEPAP acquired the highest level of political endorsement after Xi Jinping pledged to eradicate poverty from China by 2020, which resulted in its ascension from the pilot program to a nationwide campaign. According to World Bank, China has lifted 800 Million people out of poverty by 2022 and contributed to the Global reduction of people living in poverty as close to three-quarters. China has become able to achieve this milestone by adopting targeted poverty alleviation strategies and by providing economic opportunities to the unprivileged people to raise their income level.

Through this initiative, China aimed to add 10GW of solar capacity by 2020, which will benefit over 2 Million people. The program targeted 35,000 poverty-stricken villages which were located in 471 counties in 16 Provinces. According to an evaluation study conducted in 2020, this program has resulted in an increase of 7%-8% in the per-capita disposable income of the county. Chinese Government investment in solar energy and using it as a strategy for poverty eradication has brought out positive results and the effects are twice as high in the subsequent two to three years, especially in Eastern China.

Three different contexts contributed to making SEPAP a priority on Government’s agenda, making a historical conjuncture. First was the political push to eradicate prolonged rural poverty in China. To combat the higher rural-urban income gap, China adopted an “industrial” approach that emphasized developing innovative industrial facilities in the unprivileged region to make them self-sufficient in the long run. The second was the significant demand for rural electrification, where former technological preferences, especially small hydropower, were no longer feasible. The third driver was the overcapacity and shrinkage of the country’s solar energy sector and the subsequent necessity to stimulate distributed solar PV installation. Before 2013, China’s solar energy sector was mostly export-oriented with a dominant share of exports in overseas markets in Europe. During 2008 Trade disputes in the EU and US combined with the financial crisis lead Chinese solar manufacturers to the brink of Collapse. So, opening the domestic market for solar consumption was launched as a rescue strategy. The officials favored the installation of the distributed, small-scale solar system that can generate energy that may be utilized locally. By 2013, China becomes the world-leading market for solar energy and by 2015, It reached a total installed capacity of more than 43.18GW. Considering the scenario, SEPAP was formulated with a strategic vision that will benefit the local people while also expanding distributed Solar PV generation and absorbing overcapacity. 

In 2014, SEPAP was launched by National Energy Administration (NEA) and State Council leading group

Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development (CPAD) as two joint policies. A first policy designed two alternatives for policy implementation. Installing rooftop Solar PV systems for low-income families formerly registered with CPAD was the initial option. The other policy alternative was to build Solar Power Station on the non-arable lands near the counties and villages. Using a robust financial model described in policy guidelines, the SEPAP was funded by both Government subsidies and corporate donations as a part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. The second joint policy includes detailed guidelines for developing pilot SEPAP Projects in six provinces which included 30 counties. The provinces targeted were relatively underdeveloped while having abundant solar resources. Provincial Governments were involved to carry out the implementation process which include collecting comprehensive data on the poor household, energy supply and consumption, and quality of grid connection for each county. After the approval of plans from central governments, they were executed by the county’s government via an open bidding process. Provincial Governments’ poverty alleviation funds and policy banks’ preferential loans were utilized for the financial support of the pilot project of the Program. To ensure accountability and transparency in projects, monitoring and evaluation teams were designed by NEA and CPAD to maintain a check and balance on program activities and construction maintenance. To raise poor household income through this project, the profits gained from the sale of solar power were distributed fully among residents after Tax deductions. The policy goal also guaranteed 3000RMB of annual income per household for more than 20 years. The program created a win-win situation by alleviating the poor from poverty while absorbing China’s overcapacity of solar energy at the same time. 

China’s ambitious plan to align poverty alleviation goals with the expansion of renewable energy has some serious practical concerns associated with it. Analyzing the program leads to significant gaps in policy design and implementation. The program faced severe budgeting and financial problems because of a lack of appropriate arrangements and no detailed financial mechanism was developed for post-construction maintenance of the projects. Only the central government endorsement was not enough to tackle these challenges but consistent support from the banking and bureaucratic sector was the pre-requisite for program implementation. Moreover, proper financial incentives were also required to encourage the solar companies to take lead in the construction of projects. Another challenge associated with the project was the complication in the governance structure where energy regulators took the lead rather than development officials. Misallocation of expertise affected the priorities in agenda setting of the program i.e. energy regulators based on their expertise, advocated the expansion of industrial capacity rather than looking out for poverty and development issues in the local context. Moreover, the time frame designed for the assessment of pilot projects was not enough for the critical evaluation of the success and failure of the project before its transition toward a national program. 

Even though it’s a commendable approach, the combination of renewable energy technology with poverty reduction needs to be further examined through rigorous empirical studies both in China and in other developing nations. Future studies on how to integrate industrial strategies with development priorities and what governance institutions or structures might best serve these many policy goals can provide great insight into various policy alternatives that would be beneficial in the long run as well. 

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