Silk Road Adventure

June 13-14

The Ride to Jiayuguan & a Day of Touring

We left in the morning for Jiayuguan, an oasis in the Gobi Desert that originally marked the eastern border of the Chinese Empire. Jiayuguan has a fortress, part of the Great Wall, that stretches between two mountains making it impossible to use the mountain pass without going through the Great Wall entrances. The ride was typical Gobi Desert. We reached over 6,000 ft. The area is barren with little grass and periodic mountains, but literally so much space that the horizon is masked in sand blown by the desert winds.

Wind Farms in the Desert

We passed an enormous wind farm with hundreds of turbines at a place where the desert winds are blowing up into the mountains. We saw some blades delivered to the site.

They were two-piece blades that looked like they had a feathering tip to be able to control the blade in high winds. I would expect that they are made in China. The maintenance facility was substantial and had large cranes and assembly fixtures. They were also making towers at the same location. The economics of a wind farm are probably workable in China. The labor rate is low and the wind is high. I don't know if it blows at night, but we experienced at least 30 knots of wind as we drove through the wind farm area. It is a disappointment that people in the U.S. are not more knowledgeable about the economic viability of wind turbines. The cost of the turbines versus their output is only economical when the costs are low and winds are reliably high. Wendy Park is pleased to host the Burning River Festival at Whiskey Island this August, a remarkably successful environmental outreach event. But we wish the festival was more open to nuclear energy. We believe that nuclear offers the only viable large-scale solution to America's energy problem without contributing to global warming. But many environmentalists believe that the ever increasing energy requirements can be met with wind energy. This sort of misinformation obviously lay at the feet of the government, who in a round about way sanctions the development of wind turbines in areas that are not appropriate. And of course, the scientific public has not come out strongly enough against the obvious difficulties of wind energy such as:

1.Random power generation in accordance with the wind, rather than generating power when it is needed. A power grid can only tolerate a certain amount of randomized power generation. The other generating constituents on the grid need to back down as the wind energy increases. This will functionally limit wind energy to something like 2%-5% of the total energy sources connecting it to the grid.
2.The creation of more energy in the winter instead of the summer. This would be appropriate to Cleveland where our real energy needs are in the summer with air conditioning loads on the grid.
3.The high capital cost of building wind farms.
4.The large number of birds killed by wind turbine farms, particularly when they are in flyways for migrating birds.

We know the economics for a wind farm in the U.S., but I would sure like to know what they are in China.

More on Driving

During the drive I had two more head-on confrontations with oncoming traffic. Cars traveling toward me pulled out into my lane when I was only 200 ft away. In both cases the drivers must have seen me, but pulled out anyway, knowing I would have to pull over to the shoulder of the road. It is critical to concentrate on what is ahead of you. Whenever an oncoming car is passing you, it is critical that you remain alert – no daydreaming, no admiring the scenery, no thinking about the next deal!

I am appalled that we still have to travel in convoy. Theoretically, we are not permitted on toll roads because the Chinese government feels that motorcycles are too slow, and we are not permitted to ride our motorcycles in the city. And there is a security concern. From the security standpoint, if there is a delicate operation, it should be guarded just like it is in the States. We allow the Chinese people to have free travel within the U.S. – they should do the same with us.

China/U.S. Economic Comparisons
China U.S.
Population 1.3 billion 300 million
Gross Domestic Product $1.932 bn $11.7 bn
Annual Growth Rate in GNP 9% 3.3%
Agriculture % of GNP 15.2% 1.2%
Mfg. % of GNP 46% 12%
% of Work Force in Agriculture 49% 2%
Net Energy Imports as a % of Energy Used 2% 28%

This data is from the Economist magazine. The population of China is huge, but we have a substantially larger gross domestic product. The Chinese GNP might be larger than 1.9, but is still only 20% of the size of the U.S. economy. With the incremental growth rate of approximately 6%, it will be a long time before China can catch up to us in GNP size, and when they do, a significant amount of the GNP in China should be owned by American capitalists – that is if the Department of Commerce does negotiates correctly. The percent of the GNP in agriculture is quite interesting. The high percentage of Chinese GNP in agriculture reflects a large number of farms that are inefficient. Ineffficency results in a larger number of workers engaged in farming. What surprised me was the large domestic consumption of energy. This data is probably from 2006, and within that period China was adding something like 200 million tons of steel capacity. Our entire steel capacity in the U.S. is only 100 million tons.

The People in our Group

As the Silk Road trip comes to a close, there is a lot of discussion about how this trip is changing the way each of us will live. Three of the members are between jobs and trying to determine what they actually want to do. Some of the older people are questioning whether they should be less involved in their companies and whether they should step back and let other people run things. Then as always, when should we do the next trip? For me, taking two months off is murderous, but I definitely want to do it again in 2-3 years. The key, of course, is to stay in good shape physically.

Back Problem

My sciatica has recurred, and I am having a little bit of trouble walking, but riding is no problem at all. I have sponged some Norflex tablets (muscle relaxants) from Roger Hansen, and they seem to help. I'm hoping it doesn't get any worse.

Tomorrow we continue driving through the desert on a 300 mile trip to Wuwei China.

That's all for now.

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