China adds enough solar and wind every year to cover the total electricity use of major countries such as South Africa, Spain, and (almost) the UK.
Little doubt the future of energy is solar. So much better to confront the ethical issues now…
If the author would address two questions for context, it would be helpful:
With their residential electricity apparently covered and with the China GDP growing at a fairly low rate for them (4.5% forecast) why do they still need to commission such a large number of new coal plants? Where is the energy going?
What is the actual performance of the renewable energy projects they have put in place? Are they running at capacity or even running at all? If it is anything like the performance reported elsewhere in the world, and there is no obvious reason for it to be otherwise, the likelihood of their renewables operating at the stated install capacity is very low.
While these figures are impressive, it is slightly misleading to imply that China’s solar and wind generation could meet the electricity needs of entire countries. Solar and wind have never provided all the electricity for a country, and this not be technically possible at an affordable price.
Because of the problem of intermittency, while it is relatively easy to accommodate low levels of solar and wind into the grid, increasing this amount becomes very difficult above the capacity factors for solar and wind. These are at most 30% (combined) Adding more solar and wind above this level results in the added capacity being unusable on windy/sunny days. And this gets exponentially worse as penetration increases.
Ideally we would be able to store this extra electricity but we do not yet have the required technology at the required scale.
This is the lesson learnt in countries like Germany and Denmark, and regions like South Australia and California.
We need to keep reminding people that we need alternatives to solar and wind to get emissions close to zero in the next few decades.
The obvious way to do that is the expand nuclear power. Numerous studies (e.g. by the IPCC and IEA ) have shown that the cheapest way to get to net zero quickly includes nuclear energy. This could be even faster and cheaper if we set the same safety standards for nuclear power as for other forms of electricity generation. At the moment standards are vastly (>100 fold) higher for nuclear. This is making it unnecessarily expensive to reduce emissions. It is also killing people and endangering lives by accelerating climate change.
Interesting article, thanks for putting that into perspective. I understand it is not exactly the same topic, but your mention to use China as a model brought this up in my mind: Why did you choose to make no mention of China’s human rights record, particularly when forced labor is being used to build much of this infrastructure? Thought it would be at least worth a mention. Thanks!
China is also adding long distance very high voltage DC transmission to move the power. Our failing system with veto power to everyone claiming to be a "stakeholder" is preventing necessary transmission.
Your naivety makes this seem like mindless Chinese propaganda.
"what’s promising – and should get more attention – is how rapidly China is scaling solar and wind power"
Promising at a first glance, but I can't help but notice how you compare a country with more than 70 times the population of Australia. It is not notable to any degree for a country to increase their production by less than 3% in wind and solar. Their power consumption increased by 14%, or 1,000 TWh, over two years from 2019 to 2021 alone, totalling at 8 thousand TWh.¹
China's total wind and solar electricity production account for less than just their increase in consumption over as little as 3 years from 2019. And only 25% of that increase was accounted for by an increase in wind and solar. You can't make bar charts comparing basketballs to golf balls in an attempt to impress people over the basketball's bouncing and size.
Thanks for this, Hannah! Really compelling and encouraging.
With average annual output around 30%, are the numbers nameplate or actual?
The chinese government is listening to the chinese people and so it improved environment in no time, check chinese media. No other power ever planted so many trees in so short a time as china in the northeast. The german company MANZ built Solar panel factories of the latest tecnic in China, but in the EU there is still a high punitive duty on chinese solar panels. Very good for China, Asia, Africa.
Really interesting article! I was aware that China is adding a lot of wind and solar, but did not expect the scale to be anything like this compared to rest of world. It would be nice to have context of the rate of growth of overall electricity demand in China though; is this helping them to decarbonise, or are they needing to add large amounts of dirty electricity generation as well?
Very true, but needs to be paired with the similar graphs about coal consumption/installation and the power of the coal "lobby" in CCP politics.
Interesting analysis. China's population is due to peak pretty soon, so that should help. Given the size of the sector, industrial process heat is another challenge. China is definitely a double-edged sword situation. They can get things done fast, but that also means corruption moves quickly and unneeded infrastructure gets built. I don't know the answer to this, but of the new coal plants, are any getting set up for carbon capture and storage--i.e. with gasifiers?
Great article. The Chinese economy is opaque and full of distortions. Since the provinces lack taxing authority they generate revenue by seizing property and selling it for development. They have no choice as they need to provide local services!!! Coal capacity is a wonderful example. Powerful interests in rural areas mine lots of coal. China is ~16% of the world population and now operates more coal plants than the WHOLE PLANET COMBINED. The statistics for solar and wind growth inform a RATIONAL observer that if ROI governed investment, adding coal infrastructure with 50 year useful life boilers is idiotic. If battery storage blossoms, EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 50 year boilers becomes a millstone. No rational banker would or could underwrite such a venture but in the PRC these decisions are made for stability. People in America who are pro-nuclear always seem to ignore the REALITY that the reason none are built is no one is FOOLISH enough to underwrite a 60 year folly. They need to hang their tin cup out and get the government to insulate them from a bad investment that otherwise should not be made. China is loaded with absurd infrastructure investment that likely was reported as "growth" and its decommission will do the same. Who would buy a car built to last 50 years with the forethought it will be crushed and recyled in 5-10 years. No one unless someone else sits ready to bail you out.