Urgency of Meeting Electricity Demand in China From Zero-Carbon Sources: Report

A new report has highlighted both the opportunity and urgency of meeting electricity demand growth in China from zero-carbon sources.

On September 22, 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that China will strive to peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. This new climate pledge is a critical step forward in the global fight against climate change and reflects China’s determination to provide responsible global leadership. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) have released a report which highlights both the opportunity and urgency of meeting electricity demand growth in China almost entirely from zero-carbon generation sources.

The report ‘China’s Zero-Carbon Electricity Growth in the 2020s: A Vital Step Toward Carbon Neutrality’, outlines a scenario for 2030 that demonstrates that zero-carbon generation is economically and technologically feasible in China. It further outlines recommendations for policies and a plan to deliver them during the 14th Five-Year Plan.

The report details that the key to achieving the goal, set by Xi, is to electrify as much of the economy as possible and to ensure that almost all electricity is generated from zero-carbon resources well before 2060. The appropriate strategy compatible with China’s long-term carbon-neutrality target should be to ensure that almost all growth in China’s electricity generating capacity is zero carbon, with no new coal investment.

“The only route to a zero-carbon economy, in China as across the world China, is through massive green electrification. China’s hugely important commitments to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 and to peak emissions by 2030 should therefore be matched by a key strategy for the 2020s—with all electricity system growth coming from zero-carbon sources, and no new coal investments in the 14th Five-Year Plan. This report shows that such a strategy is easily technically possible and economically desirable,” said Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission.

The report assesses a zero-carbon investment scenario for 2030 aligned with what is needed to decarbonise China’s power sector by 2050, and assumes:

  • Electricity supply reaches 11,000 TWh by 2030, an increase of 54 percent above current levels;
  • No new coal capacity is added beyond the 1,041 GW in place in 2019, but there is a slight increase in coal generation as existing assets are used more intensely;
  • Considering the increasingly competitive economics of renewables, wind and solar capacity reach 1,650 GW in 2030, contributing 28 percent to total generation in that year; and
  • Total non-fossil fuel generation reaches 53 percent of the total, slightly above the target of 50 percent proposed by China’s government in 2016.

According to the RMI and ETC analysis, renewables and other zero-carbon generation resources are or will soon be the most cost-effective way to meet growing electricity demand, enabling the shift away from new coal investments.

Furthermore, the country’s power system can also continue to operate effectively with the higher levels of renewables outlined in the 2030 scenario. The power system can manage the increased variability associated with a greater share of wind and solar by increasing interconnections between provinces and increasing grid flexibility by retrofitting existing coal and hydro generation. Market and grid reforms will also play an important role.

The report concluded by stating that as it is economically and technically possible for China to meet all future growth in its power supply from zero-carbon sources, it is essential that policies, particularly the 14th Five-year Plan, are aligned with a zero-carbon growth objective. 

A clear quantitative target will enable China’s wind and solar development and supply industries to achieve the economies of scale and learning curve effects which make cost reductions possible. The targets would also require policy changes from four pillars: mechanisms to incentivise investment in renewables, market and grid reforms to support flexible power, upgraded planning process to align with renewable growth, and improved technical regulation to enhance system reliability.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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