Electrification of China’s transport system, industry, heating, and other sectors is the backbone of the country’s drive to decarbonize its development. Therefore, it is important to take a look at the development of the sources of electricity: thermal combustion for power and the simultaneous growth of output and use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. The latter has continued to grow over the past 36 months, albeit at a slower pace than pre-COVID 2020 but current trends see renewables growth picking up again.
In previous posts, we looked at the output of coal to power China’s development. However, since China’s Covid restrictions have induced a slow-down of economic growth and resulted in a slump in the building industry, which in turn impacts the cement and steel industry – two major consumers of coal –, much of China’s coal output at this point in time is used to generate electricity. It is therefore a good point in time to look at the development of electricity generation from coal and renewables to provide a glimpse of where China’s GHG emissions may be going in the future.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), coal output stood at 2,929 million tons for the first eight months of 2022, which was an 11% accumulated increase over the same period last year. Energy experts are reporting that much of that coal is currently being held in stock to pre-empt another energy security crisis as China experienced in 2021 and to prepare inventory for potential shortfalls of other energy sources due to the geopolitical situation as well as the impact of a changing climate on hydropower. This year’s unprecedented heat wave led to rivers running low and generating less hydropower. At the same time, thermal energy production – largely based on the combustion of coal – has been decreasing over the past 36 months, while electricity output from renewables like wind and solar has been steadily increasing over the same period. This trend is compounded by data from organizations such as the International Energy Agency which looks back at, among others, a 10-year period. This means cleaner forms of electricity generation are slowly gaining ground over coal.
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Even more interesting in this context is a look at the growth rates over the past 36 months. Thermal electricity’s growth rate was single digits in 2019 and even negative during several months in 2020. Thermal power grew double-digit during much of 2021, but the monthly figures for 2022 show again a slowed growth in the single digits. Wind, on the contrary, continued to grow steadily since 2019, with double-digit growth towards the 2nd half of 2020 and consistently throughout 2021. Figures for 2022 show high single-digit growth. Growth figures for solar PV-generated electricity show a similar trend, with high single and partly double-digit growth, especially throughout 2022.
The NBS is an agency directly under the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. It is responsible for the collection, investigation, research, and publication of statistics concerning the nation’s economy, population, and other aspects of society. The bureau’s authority and responsibilities are defined in China’s Statistics Law. It is responsible for the research of the nation’s overall statistics and oversees the operations of its local counterparts. The NBS makes available to the public monthly, quarterly, and annual data on GDP, energy output and consumption, industrial output, and other economically relevant data. Once annually it publishes the Annual Statistical Yearbook, where the overall development of carbon intensity is reported. China does not publish overall annual CO2 emission figures but focuses on improving carbon intensity. As such, it is also important to factor industrial development as well as industrial energy-saving measures into the picture.
Overall, the carbon emitted per unit of production has been dropping steadily. This means that despite the growing industrial production and concomitant overall growth in energy demand, the increase in the use of renewable energy and cleaner coal firing plans as well as mandatory energy-saving measures of the industry have led to a steady decrease in emissions per production unit over the past years.
All these trends are compounded by data from the International Energy Agency. According to available data until 2020, CO2 emissions from electricity generation have risen significantly slower than overall electricity output. Thus, it appears that the electrification efforts of China and the continued endeavors to balance renewable energy and thermal power output may hold the potential to play a significant role in reducing overall carbon emissions.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach