Coal’s dominant share of China’s power capacity is set to be slowly eroded over the next twenty years, thanks primarily to the growth of the country’s renewable sector, in particular large hydro, which is set to account for more than half of new power plants before 2030. And while China’s power capacity is expected to more than double by 2030, estimations suggest it’s carbon emissions could be in decline by 2027.
These findings are part of a new report released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), entitled ‘The Future of China’s Power Sector: From centralised and coal powered to distributed and renewable?’
BNEF expect an additional 88 GW of new power plants annually from now until 2030, which would be the equivalent of building the United Kingdom’s total generating capacity once a year. Unsurprisingly, China is currently the world’s largest power generator (and subsequently, the world’s largest carbon emitter), and could end up installing 1,500 GW of new generating capacity over the next two decades, and investing more than $3.9 trillion in power sector assets. However, and happily, because of China’s focus on renewable energy, their total power sector emissions could start declining in 2027.
“China has started to change course towards a cleaner future,” said Jun Ying, country manager and head of research for China at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”But despite significant progress in renewable energy deployment, coal looks set to remain dominant to 2030. More support for renewable energy, natural gas and energy efficiency will be needed if China wants to reduce its reliance on coal more quickly.”
Due in part to their reliance upon manufacturing, China has made large strides in the renewable energy sector, specifically in the solar and wind industry. This has led to an industry leading manufacturing infrastructure, supplying great swathes of the world’s photovoltaic and turbine products. Unsurprisingly, while economically beneficial to China, this industry leadership has also benefited the country’s power mix, especially in light of the need to minimise the horrific amounts of coal-based carbon emissions the country has been pumping into the atmosphere.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysed China’s power sector based on four separate scenarios — Traditional Territory, New Normal, Barrier Busting, and Barrier Busting with Carbon Price. The central scenario (New Normal) sees China’s total power generation capacity more than doubles by 2030. Together with an increase in renewables (featuring large hydro) enough to supply more than half of all new capacity additions, the scenario saw an increase in gas-based generation, which would drive the share of coal-fired power generation down from 67% in 2020 to 44% in 2030.
Even in the New Normal, however, coal’s production capacity is still set to grow rapidly until 2020, adding an average of 38 GW per year. Following 2020, coal will see smaller growth — only 10 GW per year — until 2030. Due to the longevity of China’s coal industry, the country’s carbon emissions and atmospheric problems causing poor air quality will continue through the next 10 to 15 years, and could take many more before any considerable beneficial effects are seen.
The remaining three categories are described as follows;
- Traditional Territory — which sees a heavier reliance on coal and fossil fuels
- Barrier Busting — in which barriers to the adoption of clean technologies are systematically eliminated by policy-makers
- Barrier Busting with Carbon Price — which includes the above category and then includes a carbon price.
Commenting on the final scenario, BNEF noted that they belief themselves to be the first to produce “…the world’s first forecast of a Chinese carbon price, based on stated national goals for emission abatement.” Specifically;
An average carbon price of CNY 99/tCO2e ($16/tCO2e) will result in 23% fewer new coal plants being built compared to the New Normal scenario. The difference would be made up by more renewables and natural gas. The sector’s carbon peak would arrive four years sooner as a result, in 2023.
“The wide range of outcomes in our scenarios demonstrate the extreme uncertainty facing China’s energy sector,” said Milo Sjardin, head of Asia Pacific at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”The future depends on a number of big questions, questions on which one can still only speculate: the cost at which China may be able to extract its shale gas reserves, the potential impact on fracking and thermal generation of water constraints; and potential accelerations in climate and environmental policy, including a potential price on carbon.”
“It is hard to underestimate the significance of China’s energy consumption growth and its evolving generation mix,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”The impacts will reach far beyond China and have major implications for the rest of the world, ranging from coal and gas prices to the cost and market size for renewable energy technologies – not to mention the health of the planet’s environment.”