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Published on April 29th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


China Government Study Sees 86% Renewables by 2050

April 29th, 2015 by  

By Sonia Aggarwal of Energy Innovation

Last week, representatives from China’s national Energy Research Institute, the State Grid Energy Research Institute, and others released a new study envisioning a nation powered by 57% renewables in 2030, growing to 86% renewables by 2050, all at the same time as China’s economy grows sevenfold.

China’s new analysis, analogous in many ways to a 2012 study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showing how the US could reach 80% renewables by 2050 (also summarized here on CleanTechnica), finds that China could meet its electricity demand from now until 2050 with a fast-growing share of its power coming from renewables.

This visionary study is the result of two years of research and analysis by a large group of China’s top energy researchers, with technical support from international experts, including representatives of the US Department of Energy.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

The scenario with 86% renewables in 2050 would require substantial growth in the number of electric cars, increased electrification and efficiency in industrial processes, elimination of coal use to heat buildings, and a great deal of new transmission lines.

Even given all of these major changes, the study finds the high renewables scenario costs about the same as the reference scenario — with rates estimated to reach no more than 2% above business as usual (even without counting the higher environmental cost of business as usual). Meanwhile, the renewable energy industry supply chain could contribute more than 6% of China’s total GDP in 2050.

China 86 percent renewables

Under this high renewables scenario, CO2 emissions could drop 70% below today’s levels, while important contributors to China’s air pollution problem — SO2 and NOx — could decline to levels China hasn’t enjoyed since the 1980s.

A Clear Path to China’s Climate-Friendly Future?

The report also recommends next steps for Chinese government, the renewable energy industry, the power sector, and the people. The recommendations include everything from moving forward on the recently announced electricity sector restructuring and building up China’s growing cap-and-trade programs, to transforming the “energy development mindset” and making “everybody a renewable energy prosumer.”

The real power of this study, made possible by a huge team of dedicated analysts and funded by the Energy Foundation China, is showing a credible path China could take to decarbonize its electricity system, see blue skies once again, and support enormous economic growth over the next 35 years.

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  • Aku Ankka

    I guess this is better than it might have been, but looking at pre-2030 progress it seems that CO2 emissions will be growing for much longer than is safe for climate change perspective. And despite massive amounts of RE capacity, it is still just a tiny sliver; even coal-based production is project to grow for another 10 years.

    I realize that China is a big nation and has a long way to catch up with average industrial living standards; and that this requires more energy on short term. But still… we do not really have until 2050 to cut global emissions by two thirds.

  • JamesWimberley

    Pity there is no higher-resultion version of the chart here.

    Notice how inconsequential nuclear power is in the scenario. There isn’t even enough in 2050 to contribute usefully to grid security, unlike hydro. The actions of the Chinese leadership suggest that they are still committed to nuclear, but see it as less important than they used to. Nuclear targets get scaled back, solar and wind ones get ramped up.

    The sevenfold growth in GDP by that horizon implies a CAGR of 5.7%. This looks realistic, though still a bit high. Post-industrial economies can’t keep up the 7% of industrializing ones.

    • eveee

      James – Yes. You have to dig into the link for the details. Heres a few.
      62% electrification rate by 2050.
      91% carbon free electricity.
      86% renewable electricity

      So the nuclear portion is about 5%.
      The numbers for wind and solar are truly staggering.
      Carbon emissions will go back to 1980 levels.

      Electricity will be used for iron furnaces.

      5350 TWh from wind
      4310 TWh from solar
      429 TWh from nuclear

      Agree about the growth rates.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Try this one. Click to see big…

      • eveee

        Thanks, Bob. That works.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I reworked the data. Put all the bio stuff and all the fossil fuel stuff together. Also combined ocean and geothermal as they are small inputs. Makes it easier to see coal’s predicted drop, wind and solar’s rise, and nuclear going not much anywhere.

    • eveee

      It indicates that the scale ability and installation speed problems have sunk in.

  • nakedChimp

    any RE technology dependent industry outside of china will get fiercefull competition if they run with this.. any FF industry can pack in right on the spot.
    Creating/innovating/developing this kind of stuff and using it at the same time ‘in-house’ will accelerate progress over there tremendously.

  • Jan Veselý

    Go Amory, go. But I have one remark. Once the coal won’t be a “must have to keep lights on”, who will protect it?

    • juxx0r

      Tony “the budgie smuggler” Abbott

      • Calamity_Jean

        This is the second time I’ve seen him called “the budgie smuggler”. Is that a reference to some obscure Australian scandal?

        • juxx0r

          Budgie Smugglers are the small speedo briefs worn as swimwear by pre-teen boys and middle aged men. Tony is famous for wearing his red pair down at Bondi beach. A google image search of Tony at Bondi should clear things up.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Aha! Now I understand, before I was confused.

            As for searching for a picture of Tony in a Speedo, no thanks! I don’t want to vomit on my keyboard.

          • juxx0r

            Yeah, should have put a warning with that.

  • Epicurus

    The wingnuts are going to need a new talking point.

    • Omega Centauri

      They’ve never given up a talking point just because a study has shown it is bunk. As long as it tests well in focus groups, they will keep using it.

      • eveee

        Yes. Like waddya do when the wind doesn’t blow. A canard that should be buried, but is a zombie.

    • Steve N

      Actually the wingnuts will jump ship. They only care about the money. Stranded assets is now RE’s favorite word.

    • eveee

      The response from a wing nut? Its just propaganda. It wasn’t the minute before while citing Chinas nuclear growth. But it became propaganda as soon as renewables outpaced nuclear. All clear now?

  • eveee

    Interesting to see their plan.. 86% renewables by 2050. Over 90% carbon free. 60% variable renewables, and storage in the 10% range. Mirrors studies across the globe that says it can be done. China has formulated their own strategy, with a bit higher variable renewables and similar strategies for dealing with them.

  • Matt

    High RE cost only 2% more that BAU (without counting health or environment). With China’s air killing so many every year, how can they not add some factor in for that. At least a *, and then a mention of the live already lost to use BAU (coal).

  • Steve N

    Koch brothers will love to hear this 🙂 Coming to a country near them soon.

    • nakedChimp


    • Philip W

      Oh boy what I’d give to see their old faces while first hearing about this 🙂

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