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China Must Reduce Dependence On Coal To Achieve Energy Security

China must reduce its dependence on coal, and shift its attention to a variety of energy sources, if the country is to have long-term energy security.

These are the primary findings from new research published by the University of East Anglia in England. The new study was published in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change, and analyses the electricity supply in China, in tandem with the issues China’s energy industry faces in reducing its carbon emissions — a vital discussion, considering that China’s electricity sector is accountable for over half of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

China is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal, with its electricity sector standing as the largest single source of coal demand, consuming approximately half of the country’s coal. As the country continues to expand, its electricity consumption follows suit. In the first three quarters of 2013, the University of East Anglia notes that the rate of growth of China’s electricity consumption was 7.2%, while its electricity production for the same period similarly increased, at a rate of 6.8%.

Curbing its emissions has been a vital part of much of China’s current international policy work, including its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). In a visit to Paris at the beginning of July, China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for his country to reduce carbon emissions. Specifically, “China’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak by around 2030, but China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date.”

The University of East Anglia’s research attempts to present viable solutions for China to gain its energy independence, a step towards reducing the country’s dependency upon domestic natural resources — namely, coal.

“China’s energy sector is under pressure to achieve a secure and affordable supply while at the same time reducing its carbon emissions,” said lead researcher Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis, of UEA’s Norwich Business School and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Going on:

There has been this long argument about whether China can give up coal because that would harm their supply security.

We recommend that the Chinese Government continues to work towards two main objectives. First, increase the share of renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro-power, in the fuel mix and as a result maintain high energy independence. Secondly, improve diversity in the fuel mix. If imports are necessary, prioritise non-coal fuels, such as nuclear fuels and natural gas. These two objectives will improve electricity supply security while allowing China to decarbonise its economy.

The report’s authors are careful to acknowledge that China has begun to make moves away from reliance upon coal and other fossil fuels by focusing more on renewable energy development, but they are wary of the scale of this move, describing it as “only a gradual, incremental change that will not deliver a radically different fuel mix in less than a decade.”

“We argue that long-term aggressive deployment of renewable energy will unblock China’s coal-biased technological dependence and increase supply security in all fronts,” explained Dr Chalvatzis, a Senior Lecturer in Business and Climate Change.

However, reduced supply diversity in China during the 1990s will not recover until after 2020s due to the long-term coal lock-in that can threaten to hold China’s back from realising its full potential.

China’s rapid growth rate presents a challenge as well as an opportunity for the country’s energy future. The challenge is to secure increasing energy supplies while maintaining a decarbonisation path. In contrast, the opportunity lies in transforming the historical coal lock-in into a diversified and secure energy supply system that will fuel the Chinese economy for the years to come.

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