Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Darrin Magee, a China geographer with expertise in water and energy in China, is serving as a fellow of the prestigious Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) for the 2014 calendar year. Magee is taking part in the Reinventing Fire: China project, which could write the plan for China’s energy future. An international team of researchers and organizations are looking at the role renewable energy will have in China’s energy policy by 2050. Magee is participating in the program with the support of a grant from the RMI and is on sabbatical from the Colleges.
“I’m excited to be part of this project and to work in a more formal, intense fashion on the questions I’ve been working on for 20 years,” says Magee, who has served as an adviser and consultant on China energy research to the RMI since 2007.
The Reinventing Fire: China project builds on the 2011 initiative, Reinventing Fire, in which the RMI released a robust, transparent analysis for running a 158 percent bigger U.S. economy in 2050 using efficiency and renewables rather than fossil fuels. The Reinventing Fire initiatives have focused on the U.S. and China as the two countries with the greatest need and ability to address climate change.
“The Chinese government has set a goal of roughly 30 percent renewable sources by 2050,” explains Magee. “We believe they can do better than that, considering China counts hydro power as among its greatest renewable assets.”
Only about 40 percent of the large-scale hydro power that can be developed in China has been.
In addition to large-scale hydro, Magee points to radical end-use efficiency as an option for addressing electricity production and carbon reduction needs in China. He gives as an example replacing a 60 watt incandescent bulb with a six-watt LED bulb.
“While the power is about 10 percent what it was at the lamp, at the power plant level it makes a significant difference,” says Magee. “For every unit of energy you save at the end of the line, it translates into 50 to 100 units at the power plant because of inefficiencies along the way.”
He explains it is far easier to change light bulbs than it is to incrementally improve the efficiency of a power plant. “They all top out at about 50 percent efficiency,” he says.
Ultimately, the Reinventing Fire team is looking to impact long-term planning through short-term success.
“Our objective is to have some of the radical efficiency and high renewable wisdom written into China’s next five year plan for energy- due out in 2016,” says Magee, noting China relies on these plans to set macroeconomic targets. “If we can impact what that plan looks like for the next five years, we can impact how planners will change their mindset for the next five years –and then hopefully the next 35 years.”
Magee joined the faculty in 2008. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington, along with a B.A. in French and B.S. in mathematics from Louisiana State University. His doctoral dissertation was titled “New Energy Geographies: Powershed Politics and Hydropower Decision Making in Yunnan, China.” He has authored a number of articles on China’s water and energy and has presented his work at conferences and institutes throughout the world, including Oxford University, the University of Colorado, and the National Youth Science Foundation. In 2011, Magee was named director of the HWS Asian Environmental Studies initiative. That same year, he was selected as one of 20 Public Intellectuals Program Fellows by the National Committee on United States-China Relations.