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.
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.