Future of China’s Renewables

China is pushing ahead with renewables on a very large scale, with renewables and other non-fossil fuel options expected to provide around 15 % of its total energy needs by 2020: the nuclear programme is a small part of that, aiming to get to 4% of electricity by 2020. Renewables already supply 17%.

Wind power is the big new thing. There is 62 GW of capacity installed so far- way ahead of every other country. And that’s just the start. The Chinese Wind Power Development Roadmap 2050 stipulates that China will have 200 GW installed wind capacity by 2020, 400 GW by 2030, and 1,000 GW by 2050.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said China will restrain its ‘blind’ expansion of the wind power industry and improve planning procedures for projects. It will give priority to develop onshore wind power before 2020, while experimenting with pilot offshore wind projects, near the coastline.

Hydro has of course been the big more conventional renewable option for China, and, given the remote location of giant projects like the giant 18.2 GW (soon to be 22.4 GW). Three Gorges damn, that too has grid implications, although more progress has been made there. A series of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) supergrid links have been built to East and South China, over distances of around 1,000 km, to transfer electricity from the Three Gorges hydro power plant. The total capacity of the HVDC links is 7,200 MW, with line losses put at about 3%.

On a very different technology scale , PV solar is the other big new renewable option. So far China has focused on exporting PV, it’s a world leader, but now it is looking to large scale deployment in China, with its earlier 10GW by 2020 target now replaced: the Chinese government recently increased its target for solar energy by 40%, pledging to deploy 21GW of capacity by 2015.

China also has huge solar thermal and biomass potentials, some of which can be, and already is, harnessed at the local level meeting heat needs direct. Solar heating is quite widespread, as is biogas production from agricultural wastes and large pig farms. The big advantage of biogas is that it can be stored, so it is not a weather dependent resource.

By contrast, as noted above, most of its large green electricity assets are weather dependent and are also in remote locations. However, the newly emerging supergrid network can not only bring power to demand centres, it can also help with balancing the variable renewable inputs and variable demand making use of the sheer size of the country-if it’s not windy in one area it may well be in another.


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