As reluctant as I am to fall into the trap of blogging about the poor reporting of energy issues in the mainstream media, the Guardian’s picture caption this morning “Breezy does it – China boosts wind power production” (pg32) appears to be a prime example of editorial laziness.
It’s a great picture – pictures of wind turbines often are – I’ve put one at the top of this post. Indeed, it would be interesting to do a study of who runs the most – the pro-wind power Guardian or the anti-wind power Daily Mail? I would guess the Mail.
But where the story falls down is the reporting. “The installed capacity of grid-connected wind power in China has reached 52.58m kw and the country has replaced the US as the world’s biggest producer of wind power”, the caption reads. Just a simple bit of research (i.e. Googling) reveals the source of the story as the State Grid Corporation of China. The original press release is here. The route to UK news desks and the source of the picture (the picture in the link is the same as the one printed in the Guardian) is the Xinhuanet news service.
However, as even Xinhuanet points out in a write up of the State Grid Corporation’s press release the day before, China isn’t using this wind power. “The regional concentration of wind resources and technical obstacles have prevented the efficient use of wind power,” the company said.
In short, China lacks the infrastructure to transmit the electricity from the wind farms to it is used. This report from the Global Times suggests around 16% went unused last year. Capacity doesn’t equals production and in this case production doesn’t even equal utilisation.
It hardly needs to be said that The State Grid Corporation is Chinese government-owned, as is the Xinhuanet news service, as is the Global Times. Even so, these sources are quite open about the infrastructure problems. It’s great that China is embracing renewable sources of electricity and I see little reason why this propagandist tidbit of information is made up. What surprises me is that The Guardian, which one would assume is not naturally the strongest advocate of the Chinese government, runs the story so breezily, sorry easily.
It is prime silly season and lots of people must have delayed holidays until after the Olympics. I know from experience the value of a picture caption eating up space on a blank page. But even so, this ain’t China and people pay for this paper.
Furthermore, the public discussion regarding the real value of wind power needs to take place within the context of proper and understandable data and evidence. Which is why when I see poorly reported energy stories in national newspapers I feel the urge to blog.