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Clean Power Image Credit: China Solar Cells via Wikimedia Commons

Published on February 28th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor

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Analysis Shows China Powered By Renewable Energy While Maintaining Economic Growth & Grid Reliability



Originally published on WWF.
By Chris Conner.

By embracing conservation measures and renewable energy, China can transition to an 80 percent renewable electric power system by 2050 at far less cost than continuing to rely on coal, according to a new report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). As a result, China’s carbon emissions from power generation could be 90 percent less than currently projected levels in 2050 without compromising the reliability of the electric grid or slowing economic growth.

Image Credit: China Solar Cells via Wikimedia Commons.

The China’s Future Generation report was prepared by the Energy Transition Research Institute (Entri) for WWF and uses robust computer modeling to simulate four scenarios based on today’s proven technology: a Baseline, High Efficiency, High Renewables, and Low-Carbon Mix scenario. To develop its findings, Entri examines China’s electricity supply and demand on an hour-by-hour basis through 2050 using its advanced China Grid Model.

“By fully embracing energy conservation, efficiency and renewables, China has the potential to demonstrate to the world that economic growth is possible while sharply reducing the emissions that drive unhealthy air pollution and climate change,” said WWF’s China Climate and Energy Program Director Lunyan Lu. “This research shows that with strong political will, China can prosper while eliminating coal from its power mix within the next 30 years.”

In addition to ramping up development of renewable power sources, the world’s most populous and energy-hungry nation will need to simultaneously pursue aggressive energy efficiency initiatives to reduce electricity demand. These efficiencies, including bold standards for appliances and industrial equipment, can reduce annual power consumption in 2050 by almost half, which would set the gold standard for these products globally and make the shift to a renewables-based power system possible.

“This research allows Chinese leaders to put the questions of technical feasibility aside and economic viability aside. Instead, it is time to focus on how to enact the right policies and establish the right institutions to ensure that China’s citizens and economy are receiving clean, renewable electricity,” said Lu. “The report shows that today’s technology can get China within striking distance of WWF’s vision of a future powered solely by renewable energy.”

The analysis also describes recent Chinese regulatory efforts and challenges to increasing the percentage of renewable electricity in the country, while providing a set of targeted recommendations for Chinese leaders and policy makers on energy efficiency, prioritizing low-carbon electricity supply investments, allowing price changes to reflect the true cost of service, and prioritizing collection and analysis of key power usage data.

“Both China and the United States are at a crossroads where leaders need to choose between a future where healthy communities are powered by clean, renewable energy or a future darkened by air pollution and the dangerous effects of climate change,” said Lou Leonard, WWF’s US vice president for climate change. “This year, as all countries develop new national climate targets in advance of talks in Paris, our leaders need to choose that brighter future. For Chinese leaders the choice is simple. This report shows that renewables are doable. China can meet bold new targets with today’s technologies while cutting energy costs.”

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  • JamesWimberley

    Will China’s leaders listen? Accepting the WWF scenario would be a step change from the current all-of-the-above approach, which tries to satisfy all the lobbies at once, green and dirty alike. What the leadership does will be largely determined by the politics of smog. Current attempts to censor expressions of discontent on social media will fail I think. This isn’t some remote hobby-horse of a few activists like the opposition to the Three Gorges dam; smog from coal-burning is making millions of urban Chinese sick this minute, and they know it.

  • Banned by Bob

    This makes so much sense for China as 1) they reduce their dependence on long distance hydrocarbon imports 2) they clean their air and 3) they have ready made markets for their solar panel capacity. The payout on this type of investment given that they pay 4X for nat gas vs the US should be very quick.

  • Kyle Field

    I love it. Capitalizing on China’s desire to be cutting edge and leading the world, this report poses a challenge – “if China does X, they can be world leaders in Y”. Seriously, well framed. I’m not personally impressed by being powered by 80% renewables by 2050 as a goal…but hey, maybe it’s enough to get the ball rolling.

    • No way

      In the European Union the percentage of the total energy in 2010 that came from renewables was about 12%. In 2020 the aim is 20% and for 2030 the aim is a minimum of 27% for each specific country (hopefully hiting 40% in total).

      In the US in 2012 the percentage of renewables made up 11% of the total energy.

      No fossil fuels in China in 2050 (I’m sure they will have at least 20% nuclear) would be impressive considering them not just replacing energy (like us rich and developed countries are doing) but will at least tripple the energy production by then also.
      They are just at around 7% right now. Hoping to get it up to at least 15% by 2020. But looking at the numbers… they added about 100 GW for electricity generation in 2013 and about 60% of that was renewables. 100 GW… that’s like all of UK’s electricity generating effect that China added in just a year.

      If you’re not impressed of what China is doing then you’re definitely looking in all the wrong places. I just wish the US and Europe would put in the same effort… we have the money and technology, just lacking the will and action.

      • Kyle Field

        Good point – 80% at their scale is quite a bit and worth applauding. :)

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