China’s wind and solar potential is a whopping nine times what it would need to become carbon-neutral, according to new research conducted to help policy-makers figure out whether they can expand the two technologies from combined capacity of 630 gigawatts to a target of 1,200 GW by the end of the decade.
“The technical potential of current wind and solar technologies in China is about 56,550 GW, some nine times the level needed for carbon neutrality,” write Dr. Qingchen Chao, director of the National Climate Center of the China Meteorological Administration, and Dr. Wang Yang, associate professor at the National Climate Center of the China Meteorological Administration, in a guest post for Carbon Brief.
Decarbonizing the energy supply will be a critical step in China’s efforts to meet national climate targets. Energy consumption amounted to 87% of the country’s total emissions in 2020. At the time, China’s capacity of wind and solar power was 280 GW and 250 GW, respectively, with non-emitting sources accounting for 15.9% of demand, and President Xi Jinping proposed to double the country’s capacity to 1,200 GW by 2030.
But policy-makers have pointed to research that China would need 6,000 GW to achieve carbon neutrality, and they’re questioning whether this is even possible. The new project aimed to fill the knowledge gap by using high-resolution climate data to assess the country’s wind and solar potential. That data was supplemented with information about the country’s nature reserves and urban areas, relevant government policies, and the anticipated cost of wind and solar equipment.
“This enabled us to refine the theoretical potential—based only on wind speeds or solar irradiation—into a realistic technical potential that excludes protected or urban areas, as well as locations where wind or solar installations would be unlikely to generate an economic return,” write the researchers.
“China has long been known for being ‘rich in coal, but lacking in oil and gas’,” they add. “Based on our findings, we suggest that this expression deserves an addendum referencing the country’s rich renewables potential, particularly in wind and solar energy.”