A recent report highlights China’s stride towards cementing its status as the global frontrunner in renewable power, hinting at its potential to exceed self-imposed energy benchmarks. According to the report by Global Energy Monitor, a non-governmental organization based in San Francisco, China is poised to amplify its capacity twofold, producing 1,200 gigawatts of energy from wind and solar power by 2025. This means the country is set to accomplish its 2030 goal five years ahead of schedule. The report, which tracks both active and future utility-scale wind and solar farms, indicates that China’s utility-scale solar capacity stood at 228GW at the beginning of the year – a total greater than the rest of the world combined. Most installations are located in China’s northern and northwestern provinces like Shanxi, Xinjiang, and Hebei.
Moreover, the report identifies solar farms currently under construction that could introduce an additional 379GW to the country’s potential capacity. This figure is triple that of the United States and nearly twice as much as Europe. China has also made remarkable progress in wind capacity, with its combined onshore and offshore capacity now exceeding 310GW, a figure double that of 2017 and roughly equal to the cumulative total of the next seven leading countries. New projects in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu, and coastal regions could potentially add another 371GW by 2025, thereby augmenting the global wind fleet by almost 50%.
Dorothy Mei, a project manager at Global Energy Monitor, commented on the report, saying, “This new data provides unparalleled detail on China’s astounding acceleration in solar and wind capacity.” She added, “This intricate information becomes crucial as we closely track the execution of potential projects and navigate the country’s energy sector.” These findings corroborate earlier reports and government data from this year, which predicted that China could easily exceed its objective of providing a third of its power consumption through renewable sources by 2030.
China’s pursuit of green energy is part of its strategy to achieve the dual carbon goals outlined in 2020. Being the world’s second-largest economy and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China accounts for half of the world’s coal consumption. Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged in 2020 to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The report credits China’s extraordinary progress in augmenting its non-fossil energy sources to the diverse policies the government has adopted. These include attractive subsidies to motivate developers and regulatory measures to exert pressure on provincial governments and power generation companies.
Recently, China launched the world’s largest hybrid solar-hydro power plant in the Tibetan plateau, named Kela. The plant is projected to generate 2bn kW hours of electricity annually, satisfying the energy demands of over 700,000 households. This is merely the initial phase of a substantial clean energy project in the Yalong River basin. Currently, the installation possesses a 20GW capacity, which is expected to reach about 50GW by 2030. However, despite China’s strategic planning, its energy transition does face obstacles. Record-breaking heatwaves and droughts in recent years have hampered hydropower stations, resulting in power shortages that stalled factory operations. An outdated electricity grid and rigidity in transferring energy between regions compound the uncertainty.
Over three-quarters of the coal, wind, and solar energy in the nation is produced at the Kela facility, which is located in the western part of the country where there are less people. However, most energy consumption occurs in the east. Consequently, transporting energy across thousands of miles within the country introduces inefficiencies. Due to its current design, China’s grid may unintentionally encourage the development of coal plants near renewable energy sources. Most frequently, a large portion of the new renewable energy capacity is coupled with coal power for transmission to high-demand areas and is not connected to the local electricity grid. During the first quarter of 2023, approvals for more coal power were granted than in all of 2021. Martin Weil, a researcher at Global Energy Monitor and an author of the report, commented, “China is making progress. But with coal still the predominant power source, the country requires more audacious advancements in energy storage and green technologies for a secure energy future.”