China Leads Global Surge in Wind and Solar Power, Reducing Coal Dependence

China Leads Global Surge in Wind and Solar Power, Reducing Coal Dependence

Nearly two-thirds of large wind and solar plants under construction worldwide are located in China, significantly reducing coal's share of electricity generation, according to research from the U.S.-based Global Energy Monitor. According to a report, China was building 339 GW of utility-scale wind and solar—about 64% of the global total. That's more than eight times the 40 GW pipeline of the second-place U.S. It puts the global goal well within reach of tripling renewable capacity by 2030, even without additional hydropower, and ratchets up pressure on Beijing to raise its United Nations climate pledges next year.

According to Climate Energy Finance, China is on course to hit its 2030 goal of 1,200 GW of installed wind and solar this month—six years ahead of schedule. However, the surge in renewables is such that it poses a big challenge in their integration into China's coal-centered grid and will require faster development of transmission infrastructure, according to GEM research analyst Aiqun Yu.

However, recent analysis—published by Carbon Brief among others—points to new record highs for renewable generation. This May, the generation from coal is at a record low of 53%, while 44% of it came from non-fossil fuel sources, signaling that carbon emissions could have peaked last year if this trend goes on, according to Lauri Myllyvirta of the Asia Society Policy Institute. This is the sharpest drop from its coal share of 60% about this time last year.

In May, it was generating 12% of power from solar, while wind rated 11%, after having aggressively built out its capacity in China. Contributing 15% was hydropower; nuclear and biomass generated 5% and 2%, respectively, of non-fossil fuel power. More renewable generation meant a drop of 3.6% in CO2 emissions from the power sector—the source of some 40% of China's total emissions.

Myllyvirta said that in the event that the rapid growth of wind and solar not only continues but also contributes a significant quantity, CO2 emissions for China will face a continuous decline, making 2023 the peak year of these emissions. Logistic generation through solar power in May reached 94 terawatt-hours, standing at an unusual increase of 78% year on year, as against 29% in official data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, which did not include rooftop solar panels. Wind power generation advanced 5% to 83 TWh, despite an increased capacity of 21%, offset by variable wind conditions. Hydropower generation registered a 39% surge, as compared with the previous year when the output was flat due to drought year. On the other hand, gas-fired generation plunged 16%, while coal-fired generator production fell 3.7% when overall electricity demand had increased 7.2% year-on-year during that period.

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