Analysis examines China’s renewable energy development
A guest post published by Carbon Brief on Tuesday has assessed China’s efforts to develop its renewable energy industry and how its plans to build “gigantic” wind and solar energy bases could help the country hit its climate goals. By evaluating government documents, the post’s authors – Lauri Myllyvirta
and Xing Zhang
from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) – found that China is set to add “at least” 570GW of wind and solar power between 2021 and 2025. This means that China’s installed capacity for wind and solar power could “more than double” in just five years, reaching “more than 1,100GW by 2025”, the article said. It added that, along with China’s other plans for clean energy expansion, the new wind and solar power “could be enough” to allow China to peak its fossil fuel consumption – and CO2 emissions – “before 2025”.
: The rate of growth would put China “on track to” meet its target for renewable energy in 2026 – four years earlier than the government’s current timeline – the analysis said. (China’s president Xi Jinping said in December 2020 that China would bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to exceed 1,200GW
by 2030.) The analysis also explained the definition and importance of “clean energy bases”, a concept first introduced in China’s overarching 14FYP
in early 2021. These “bases” will not only see “numerous” large wind and solar parks being constructed, but also contain long-distance transmission lines to demand centres and – in most cases – “supporting” coal power plants, the analysis noted.
WHERE: The analysis said that a major reason behind the development of those clean energy bases – as well as the “supporting” coal bases – is to make use of the resources of the “sparsely populated” provinces in west China, with an aim to meet the energy demand of the more populous and prosperous east. The northern province of Inner Mongolia and the north-western province of Gansu will see the “largest” clean energy bases constructed. According to plans, the two regions will see approximately 190GW of new wind and solar capacity installed by 2025, on top of their current installed capacity of 74GW.
This guest post came after an official from China’s state energy regulator announced the latest figures
about the country’s renewable power capacity. Wang Dapeng – deputy director at the renewable energy division of the National Energy Administration (NEA), the state energy regulator – said last Friday that China’s renewable capacity had grown by 25.4GW in the first quarter of 2022, which accounted for 80% of the power generation capacity the country had installed during the three months. The capacity of wind and photovoltaic (PV) solar power had increased by 7.9GW and 13.2GW, respectively, in the period, making up a combined 66.5% of the overall renewable capacity growth, Wang noted. By the end of March, China’s installed capacity of renewable power had reached 1,088GW, around one-third of the world’s total. The wind and PV solar power capacity had amounted to 337GW and 318GW, respectively, by the end of March, Wang added.
The construction of “gigantic” bases must take into consideration the accommodation and utilisation of the wind and solar power that they generate, experts have said. At a recent industry forum in Beijing, Li Qionghui – director of the New Energy and Statistics Research Centre at the State Grid Energy Research Institute – noted that those large bases “would be meaningless” and “would not be able to support the realisation of the carbon-peaking and carbon neutrality goals” unless their power generation could be absorbed and used by the grid, reported China Energy News
. Whether or not those renewable resources would be wasted – a problem China has seen before
– will depend on whether the power transmission channels could be completed at the same time as the bases, said Chi Yongning, chief engineer of the New Energy Centre at the China Electric Power Research Institute, according to the same report.
China added ‘more than half’ of new global coal power capacity
China commissioned 25.2GW of coal-fired power capacity in 2021, which accounted for 56% of the whole world’s newly commissioned coal power capacity last year, according to an annual report
that tracks the global coal plant pipeline. The report noted that China’s “surge” of new capacity last year “almost offset” coal plant retirements in the rest of the world, which stood at 25.6GW. The report added that Japan, South Korea and China “all pledged to end public support for new international coal plants” in 2021. (See more findings from the report about China in the analysis below, written by two of its authors.)
WHO: The report was jointly published by a collective of coalitions and organisations from different parts of the world, which specialise in environmental, climate change and energy issues. Two of them – Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and Sierra Club – are based in the US. Three come from Europe: CREA, E3G and Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe. The rest are in Asia, including South Korea-based Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC), Japan-based Kiko Network, India-based Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), plus three groups from Bangladesh.
The report came on the same day a 1GW coal-fired power unit went into operation at a major new coal power plant in south-east China. According to China Electric Power News
, the unit is the second out of two “ultra-supercritical
” 1GW coal-fired power units that form the first phase of the Luoyuanwan coal power plant in Fujian province. The newspaper said the unit could “enhance the energy security
of Fujian” (more details below). The news also came as Chinese leaders continued to emphasise the importance of coal power. Yu Bing – deputy director of the NEA – said on 24 April that coal power “will still bear important responsibilities of ensuring power security in the long run” in China, reported China’s state news agency Xinhua
There are several “key drivers” behind “continued coal power expansion” in China, according to the report. They include “insufficient investment” in clean energy, “outdated” planning and operation of the power grid and “conflict” between the central and local governments. The report noted that, although the “crisis” that saw dozens of Chinese provinces face electricity shortages late last year had “nothing to do” with lack of coal power plant capacity, a “shift in political winds” appears to have led to the “resumption” of coal plant permissions in early 2022. (Read Carbon Brief’s assessment
of China’s power shortages last year.)
MEDIA COVERAGE: Reuters
said that the report “found that global coal plant capacity grew 18.2GW to about 2,100GW or about 0.87%”. The newswire reported that China’s “recent focus has shifted towards energy security, following disruptive power cuts and geopolitical uncertainties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. The Guardian
wrote that “far too much” coal is still being used and “too many” new coal power plants are planned in order for the world to “stay within safe temperature limits”, according to the report. New Scientist
led its piece with the report’s mention of China, adding that China’s coal capacity expansion showed “how much the country is propping up one of the worst drivers of climate change”. The South China Morning Post
described the “addition” of Chinese coal power plants as “hurting global efforts to phase out dirty fossil fuel”, quoting the report.