An energy researcher from Peking University is pointing to a pathway for China to peak its coal consumption, coal-fired generation capacity, and power sector carbon emissions by 2025, in line with President Xi Jinping’s remarks at the White House Leaders’ Summit on Climate April 22.
At the Earth Day event last month, Xi pledged to achieve peak coal consumption by 2025, the South China Morning Post reports. Just over a month earlier, China’s five-year plan for 2021-2025 had disappointed analysts who were hoping for faster action to peak emissions before the country’s official 2030 target.
“The international community expected China’s climate policy to ‘jump’, but in reality it is still crawling,” Zhang Shuwei, chief economist at the Draworld Environment Research Centre, said at the time.
But now, Kang Junjie, deputy director of Peking University’s climate change and energy transition program, sees 2025 as a realistic year for the country’s coal consumption and power sector emissions to peak, with installed coal plants maxing out at 1,150 gigawatts, the Post says. The country’s coal capacity stood at 1,095 GW last year.
“China’s National Energy Administration had earlier said China would accelerate the development of renewable energy during the 14th five-year plan period for 2021-25, with renewable power accounting for over half of total installed capacity by 2025,” up from 42.4% at the end of last year, the news story states. Across the five-year span, two-thirds of the country’s increase in electricity demand will be met by renewables, setting what Kang called “a strict boundary for the 14th five-year plan” during an April 28 presentation.
All told, he said, China will draw 550 GW of new capacity from wind and solar, along with 100 GW from hydropower, 50 GW from fossil gas, and 20 GW each from nuclear and bioenergy.
“Under this scenario,” he said, “the installed capacity of renewables will account for 51% of the total capacity and renewable energy will account for 66.5% of the increase in power consumption, which will well achieve Beijing’s target.”
But he added that China should carry on with 100 gigawatts of new coal capacity it currently has under construction or approved. “It’s a big waste to shut down these 100 GW capacities,” he said. “I think we should build these plants.”
This week, three officials with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) are stressing the need for China to take urgent action during the 2020s—particularly over the next five years—and turn its energy supply mix “profoundly towards renewables.” Writing for the World Economic Forum, Nicholas Wagner, Paul Durrant, and Dolf Gielen say that level and pace of transition is doable, citing several recent studies that “shed light on the proposed pathways”.
The agency’s own World Energy Transitions Outlook (WETO) sees that happening with an emphasis on offshore wind and rooftop solar that would also ease the need for new transmission capacity, plus faster decarbonization of industrial energy use with technologies like green hydrogen.
Overall, the goal of peaking China’s emissions before 2030 “looks achievable, without significantly impacting economic growth, if the current deployment rate of renewable power is accelerated, coal use is deprioritized, and efficiency improvements are sustained,” they write. “In that context, the announced growth plans for solar and wind of 700 GW added by 2030 do not look very ambitious. More can be done, and if capacity additions continue at the 2020 level, more will be achieved.”
To hit the target, however, China’s embrace of renewables “will need to be accompanied by policy, regulatory, and market reforms to enable smarter, more interconnected energy distribution systems, and major changes to transport systems and production processes,” the three IRENA authors add. “The 2060 carbon neutrality transition specifics will take time to pin down and will evolve with economic necessity, changes in the international context, and technology innovation. But work on that detail needs to begin now, and it will be critical to front-load efforts and focus on accelerated 2030 commitments.”