solar panels Chinese city
January 9, 2017

New Report: China takes global lead in clean energy

In spite of the regular reports of heavy smog related to pollution in China's major cities, the country continues to make the transition to clean energy at breakneck speed.

In a five-year plan released recently, China published goals which would seem to be beyond anybody's wildest expectations.

Greenpeace points out that the consumption of coal will sink below its highest levels of 2013-14 and clean energy use will be around 15 percent.

The organization also explained that China kept breaking its own records and regularly exceeding their own aims in 2016.

Solar power

According to Greenpeace, China set the world record for solar power capacity installed in a year in 2015 – this was the equivalent of laying down enough solar panels to go over one and a half football pitches every hour 24/7 for the entire year. In 2016 this record was broken, with the output doubling.

In addition, the capacity target for solar installation for 2020 is on course to be achieved next year, two years ahead of time.

solar panel install

China plans to be the next leader in solar panel technology.

Coal consumption

The use of coal has also dropped, with a fall of 1.6 percent between January and November 2016. This seems to signal a change in China’s overwhelming dependence in coal.

In March, China set an energy target of the equivalent of 5 billion tons of coal for 2020. This suggests they expect a 3 percent annual growth from 2015.

The figures gleaned, though, point to a growth of only 2.5 percent, which, coupled with coal set at a maximum of 58 percent of the total energy target, means that the consumption of coal can only go down from its peak in 2013-14.

Carbon emissions have improved

The other good news is that carbon emissions seem to have stayed at the same level, helped in part by the rapid growth of the non-fossil energy sector.

smokestacks

Can China become the leader in clean energy?

Greenpeace suggests that the quotient of non-fossil energy could be as much as 17 percent by 2020, exceeding the aim of 15 percent.

The combination of an increased share of clean energy and a lower demand for energy means that CO2 emissions should be distinctly lower than the targets anticipated.

Problems to overcome

A common problem facing a rapid expansion of renewable energy is getting it on the grid.

In China and elsewhere, the power companies often don’t give precedence to renewable energy versus coal power, as well as failing to ensure that the amount of power created by coal is reduced to make way for renewables. This regularly leads to vast amounts of wastage in the sector.

The problem for China is that with this expansion in renewables comes with an increasing need to add it to the grid. Hopefully, once China overcomes these issues, the vast facilities the country has for wind and solar power will be utilized more optimally.

With the numerous targets being set for reduction in coal power and an increase in clean energy, it is disappointing to note that China has not set its own targets for minimizing the loss of renewables. This implies a lack of confidence in the transition or disagreements among various players.

Currently the ‘superfluous’ clean energy is predominantly in China’s far west. There are extensive works being undertaken to get these linked up to the grid but it is critical that the country modify these links for the specific energy and not for coal.

These issues in integration have also led to the teams involved focusing on clean energy in the center and east of the country.

China, then, has a number of issues to overcome during the move to cleaner energy. But with some in the incoming US administration being decidedly sceptical on climate change compared to the last administration and others, the once unthinkable idea that China could be a world leader in clean energy is now a real possibility.

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Image credit: Thinkstock