Jan 15, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Unlocking the ways to meet China's carbon emissions goal

Illustration of an open padlock with the Chinese flag on it

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

China has a workable path toward making a huge head start on its long-term climate pledges by ensuring that essentially all new power generating capacity added going forward is zero-carbon, a new analysis argues.

Driving the news: The report out today offers what authors call a technically and economically feasible roadmap for transforming China's power sector over the next 10 years.

It's from the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is a clean energy think tank, and the Energy Transitions Commission, a coalition that brings together corporate heavyweights and NGOs.

By the numbers: China has recently pledged to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2060 and have its emissions peak before 2030.

The report says the roadmap on electricity in particular between now and 2030 would involve...

  • Electricity generation growing by 54% as demand grows and China works to electrify more of the economy to help curb emissions.
  • No new coal-fired capacity is added, while combined onshore wind and solar capacity would rise from 408 gigawatts in 2019 to roughly 1,650 GW in 2030.
  • There are smaller increases in hydro, nuclear, gas and offshore wind capacity additions.
  • Total non-fossil generation is 53% of the country's total by then in the roadmap aligned with fully decarbonized power by 2050.

Why it matters: China is by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter. So there's lots of interest in whether the country will translate its broad pledges into sweeping on-the-ground changes to its energy systems — and how that can happen.

The bottom line: One key finding is the technical challenges of having immensely larger amounts of variable renewables on China's grids are real but solvable.

  • It lays out ideas around improvements in forecasting and data management, voltage control and more.
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