China's Future Generation 2.0

In November 2014, China took a bold, unprecedented step by committing to peak their overall GHG emissions by 2030. At the same time it made a pledge to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. Since 2014, China has reinforced its commitments to a safe climate future by progressively rolling out new climate policies to tackle China’s domestic emissions.

Beyond making these important commitments, China saw some very positive energy trends in 2014 and 2015. Throughout 2014, for example, China added about 35 GW of solar and wind energy generation capacity combined, the most ever by a country in a single year. China also improved its energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) by at least 5%, which is more than twice as much as the global rate. These changes indicate the strong success of domestic energy efficiency programs.The combined effect of these trends, as well as a drop in coal consumption in China for the first time since 2000, have caused China’s energy-related CO2 emissions to flatline or even to decrease.

While these trends are very promising, China will need to accelerate its transition towards a clean energy economy. Further reforms in its power sector will help deliver emissions reductions, and achieve Chinese government’s vision of an “Ecological Civilization,” an economic pathway within environmental limits.

A new WWF report written by the Energy Transition Research Institute (Entri) models China’s electric power future out to 2050. The power sector scenarios in this report are built using a refined and expanded version of China Grid 8760 Model, which simulates hour-by-hour power supply and demand from the present through 2050. Incorporating assumptions of only modest technology innovation, the report finds that:

  • Around 84% of China’s electricity generation can be met by renewable sources by mid-century if appropriate policies and measures are taken, including—and conditional upon—aggressive energy efficiency improvements.
  • China could meet or beat both of its commitments to peak its overall carbon emissions and have non-fossil fuels in primary energy use representing 20% by 2030 if the country pursues aggressive, low-carbon development scenarios for the power sector by, for example, peaking carbon emissions from the power sector by 2020.
  • Coal can be eliminated from the power mix by 2050 or even earlier, but this will require considerable political courage and enabling policies that would regulate and/or price carbon in the electricity sector at an appropriate level.
  • Over the period 2015-2050, the total costs for an electric power system run mainly with renewables would be less emissions-intensive and cheaper than a system dominated by coal. Future Generation 2.0 shows that a high-penetration renewables scenario would be about 14% cheaper and emit 3% fewer carbon emissions than what was projected in the first Future Generation report released in 2014.
  • Improved cost and emissions results are primarily due to the China 8760 Model’s inclusion of technologies that allow “demand dispatch”—a smart grid approach to efficiently manage electricity loads.