Charting China's energy transition

Dr Hao Tan's international business research is looking to satisfy intrigue about the energy system powering the world's largest developing economy, as he provides information and insight into the industrial dynamics in China's energy sector and their implications to global business and economics.

Dr Hao Tan

With the subject of his inquiries, China's formidable energy system (the world's largest after overtaking that of the USA a few years ago), the Newcastle Business School's Dr Hao Tan has his work cut out for him. He's seeking to answer questions about the Asian superpower's push for a greener energy system and a low carbon economy in his research.

"We've seen what we call an energy transition in the country, from a fossil-fuel based energy system to a more renewable energy-based system," Hao shares.

"This is a huge phenomenon when you consider its implications - not only to climate change, but also to our global economic system."

"The shift we have observed is quite significant."

Energy revolution

Hao's latest book examines these strategic changes.  Set to hit the shelves in August 2015, China's Renewable Energy Revolution - co-authored by his ongoing collaborator, Macquarie University's Professor John Mathews – blends traditional economic theories with the new. It also explores the senior lecturer's specific interest in industry dynamics and 'firm practices,' showcasing a multilayered method of examination that sees Hao and Mathews approach the issues from both macro and micro levels.

"We know that companies can be a main driver of the energy transition," he declares.

"But they are also presented with numerous opportunities arising from what is happening in this transition."

"There are a number of drivers behind China's development of renewable energy device manufacturing."

Hao notes that by utilising renewable energy, China is not only working towards meeting its obligations to international negotiations on climate change, but also enabling itself to build new industry capacity.

"China is moving from low-value manufacturing to high-value manufacturing activities," he reveals.

"Renewable energy industries can fit this agenda."

The esteemed educator and investigator similarly believes renewable energy allows countries to be more secured in their energy, meaning China and other nations could manufacture devices to both harness energy and produce energy.

"We're talking about renewable energy production as well as renewable energy device manufacturing here," he indicates.

"So there are upstream and downstream industries but they work together to supply energy from those renewable sources."

This shift duly means China does not have to only rely on regions with political turmoil, such as the Middle East, to source oil and gas.

"Of course China still presently does this," Hao muses.

"However, it also has effective diversification strategies in place which put a lot of weight on other forms of energy that the country can source by producing and manufacturing devices."

"The renewable energy model provides this kind of hope to address the issue of energy security."

The nation's newfound consciousness of environmental issues additionally plays a part in the sector's exponential growth.

Research journey

The move to academia was not a particularly swift one for Hao, but it enabled him to utilise his business expertise, which he built from his previous industry experience. Prior to the move, the ambitious scholar worked for what is now one of the world's largest telecommunication companies in China. His research journey has borrowed from his Doctorate research, and renewed its own emphasis.

"I looked at information technology during my Doctoral thesis," Hao comments.

"However I've now focused my concentration more on the energy and resource sector."

"It allows me to be involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations."

"I'm starting to work with researchers from other disciplines such as political science and engineering who are also interested in China's energy transition and its implications, which is exciting."

An extraordinary opportunity, Hao was recently invited to conduct research at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in the United States as part of his Special Study Program in early 2016. Despite its technical base in science and engineering, the prestigious institute, which boasts 13 Nobel Prize winners, is appealing to international business researchers like Hao.

Informing the public and informing students

Hao has shared his findings with the public through both English-speaking and Mandarin-speaking media, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Australian publication The Conversation and the United Kingdom's Financial Times' Chinese edition.

"Society is so busy and attention is limited; you can't really go out and talk to everyone about your research," he states.

"Engaging with the media is a very effective way of making an impact."

"This is what society looks for from our academia: they need an independent voice in debates."

Prior to joining the University of Newcastle in 2012, Hao worked with researchers, students and company executives of multifarious backgrounds. Allowing him to employ a differentiation strategy between the equally diverse students he supervises here, the bilinguist says he sees synergies between his research, media engagements and teaching responsibilities.

"I integrate a lot of industry practices and current affairs in my teaching," Hao discloses.

"On the other hand, if it's of significance in the public debate, I believe academia should follow."

Following and adapting his own writing and knowledge disseminated by the media, Hao enriches his students' learning experiences. One particular example is the acquisition of the Newcastle Port by a Chinese firm.

"In this year's teaching I used an article I originally wrote for media as a case study for my students," Hao divulges.

"The students very much liked it as it had just happened – if it's happening in our own community and is relevant to us, they can understand the theory."

Beyond Newcastle-based examples, Hao utilises studies of the Australian resource sector for course content.

"There are so many examples and stories from the sector that can illustrate the theories in my course," the accomplished keynote speaker observes.

"From entry to international competition to social responsibility and industry change."

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