China on track to quintuple its renewables capacity by 2050

According to a new DNV report, China is making amazing progress in its net zero drive, despite the country currently emitting a third of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

The aim for China is to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 and hit net zero by 2060. A huge motivation for Chinese energy policy is energy independence, although this will be difficult to achieve as fossil fuels will still be prevalent, accounting for 40% of its energy mix in 2050. The DNV report states that while green power is replacing coal, China will continue to rely on imports for oil and gas, particularly in its petrochemicals and heavy transport sectors.

DNV reveals that China currently finds itself in a transitional phase, as it is “by far the largest consumer of coal globally at over 50% of worldwide consumption,” but also by far the leading installer of renewable capacity. China reports having 1.45TW of renewables online by the end of last year and DNV predicts it will increase its green energy capacity five times over by 2050.

“Intense policy focus and technological innovation are transforming China into a green energy powerhouse,” said Remi Eriksen, CEO of the Norwegian energy consultancy DNV. “There is much to admire about China’s energy transition. There are visible signs of a vast decarbonisation effort and clean technology development within renewable energy, storage, and transmission technologies. By 2050 he declared China’s emissions will reduce by a “staggering” 70%. “However, there is potential for China to push further its transition to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels further and faster – and to bring China closer to net-zero emissions by 2050.”

One of the main advancements for the renewables sector is in wind power. In 2010, China generated just 1% of its energy from wind, but this increased to 8% in 2022, second only to coal and hydropower, and will hit 13% by 2030. By mid-century China will “comfortably” be the world’s largest wind market. Along with this, solar made up less than 1% of power generation in 2015 and in less than a decade this has risen to 5% currently, with solar and wind each contributing around 38% of its electricity production. A challenge that may slow the process of the wind rollout is that most wind power is generated in the north, and this is sparsely populated. Inefficiencies are caused as the most energy is consumed in the east, requiring long distance power transfer. Despite this, the DNV states that this issue should not be conveyed as a ‘showstopper’ for wind.

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China’s energy use will peak by 2030 and reduce 20 percent by 2050, due to electrification and energy-efficiency improvements.  This decline is also facilitated by demographic changes, including an estimated 100 million population decrease.

On the other hand, despite this impressive progress, the country’s 2060 net-zero target is ten years later than the UN’s recommendations for keeping global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Premier Xi Jinping has promised a phase-out of fossil fuels, however China is still reliant on coal as a backup source of energy. Crises, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reduced rainfall, have made alternative fuel sources such as gas and hydroelectric power more expensive. As a result, China is not only leading the world in renewables projects but also in coal-fired power plants, as in 2022 the country approved six times more new capacity than the rest of the world combined.

In conclusion, China does have further to go in terms of decarbonisation than many other larger economies such as the US and UK. Though it will be the world leader in emission reductions, this is largely because it is starting from a much higher baseline, however the progress made in the renewables sector is ‘staggering’ so this hopefully shows that they’re on the right track.