China leads renewable energy efforts with wind and solar power

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China is leading the global surge in renewable energy construction, with nearly two-thirds of the world’s large-scale wind and solar projects currently being built within its borders, as indicated by a recent report from Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

China is constructing 339 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale wind and solar power, representing 64% of the global total, according to the US-based think tank. This figure dwarfs the United States, which holds the second position with 40 GW of projects underway.

The rapid expansion in China positions the world to potentially achieve its goal of tripling renewable capacity by 2030, the report’s authors noted. They urged China to enhance its climate commitments to the United Nations next year.

Beijing is also on track to surpass its target of installing 1,200 GW of wind and solar power by 2030 as early as this month, six years ahead of schedule, according to Climate Energy Finance.

Despite the impressive growth in renewables, integrating this new capacity into China’s coal-dependent grid remains challenging. GEM research analyst Aiqun Yu highlighted the need for faster development of transmission lines to accommodate the renewable influx.

Nevertheless, the new capacity has propelled renewable energy generation to unprecedented levels. A separate analysis by Carbon Brief revealed that China generated a record low of 53% of its electricity from coal in May, while 44% came from non-fossil fuel sources. This shift suggests that China’s carbon emissions may have peaked last year if the current trend persists, as per Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

Less fossil fuels

Coal’s share in electricity generation dropped from 60% in May 2023. Meanwhile, solar energy contributed 12% to power generation in May, and wind energy accounted for 11%, thanks to substantial additions in capacity. Hydropower, nuclear, and biomass made up 15%, 5%, and 2% of non-fossil fuel power generation, respectively.

The rise in renewable energy generation has also led to a 3.6% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, which constitutes approximately 40% of China’s total emissions. Myllyvirta predicts a continuous CO2 reduction in China.

“If current rapid wind and solar deployment continues, then China’s CO2 output is likely to continue falling, making 2023 the peak year for the country’s emissions.”

His analysis pointed out that solar power generation surged by a record 78% year-on-year in May, reaching 94 terra-watt hours (TWh). This contrasts with data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, which reported a 29% increase, excluding rooftop solar panels and thereby missing about half of the electricity generated from solar.

The new analysis used data on power generating capacity and utilisation from the China Electricity Council, an industry association, to calculate wind and solar output. Wind power generation rose 5% year-on-year to 83 TWh, despite a 21% increase in capacity being offset by lower utilisation due to variations in wind conditions. Hydropower generation increased by 39% from the previous year, recovering from a drought-affected period.

Conversely, gas-fired generation declined by 16%, and coal-fired power generation fell by 3.7%, even as total electricity demand grew by 7.2% year-on-year, reported Bangkok Post.

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Ryan Turner

Ryan is a journalism student from Mahidol University with a passion for history, writing and delivering news content with a rich storytelling narrative.

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