Mongolia is a vast landlocked country sandwiched between Russia and China. It is a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum who at the Marrakech climate conference signalled their intention to switch to 100% renewable energy. Mongolia has abundant resources of wind, solar and also of coal. In 2012 98% of its electricity came from coal. Its per capita carbon emissions shot up from 1.4 tonnes to 14 tonnes between 1960 and 2013, one of the fastest rates of growth of any country. With a population of only three million and huge solar and wind resources they may be able to reduce emissions impressively quickly. They may also be able to generate huge quantities of cheap renewable energy to export to Japan, Korea and China.
Masayoshi Son is a Korean-Japanese businessman, founder and chief executive of SoftBank. In the aftermath of Fukushima he threw himself into solar pv in Japan. Now he is developing a first 50 MW wind farm in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, with plans to rapidly expand both wind and solar, potentially up to more than 100% of Mongolia’s power needs. The plan then would be to connect up a high voltage direct current (HVDC) grid to export cheap low carbon electricity to Japan, China, South Korea and possibly Russia. This could be the basis for Mongolia’s future prosperity while reducing their carbon emissions, and the emissions of their bigger neighbours. Japan, with its dense population, big industry, poor resource base and high energy prices will probably eventually be the main market, despite the difficulty of it being the most distant.
Masayoshi Son and the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation are proposing building a supergrid linking up most of Asia to develop the free flow of low carbon renewable energy from wherever it can be most cheaply produced to where it is most needed and where the prices are highest. I’ve written before about Grenatec and their similar plans, which also included Australia. Eventually the Asian and European grids might be linked up, meaning that for example solar electricity from Mongolia could be used in Europe before our sunrise. There are all sorts of new technologies, such as the elpipe, that look set to bring down the cost and ecological footprint of long distance electricity movements.
Technologically the possibilities are very encouraging. The difficulties are much more likely to be political. If political cooperation is achievable the economic and ecological rewards could be huge.