China plans twice as much wind and solar power as the rest of the world

China continues to lead the world in renewable energy development, according to a new report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a San Francisco-based non-governmental organization.

China is currently under construction on 180 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar power and 15 GW of wind power, according to findings released on Thursday.

This reportedly gives the country a combined wind and solar capacity under construction of 339 GW, almost twice as much as the rest of the world combined. By comparison, the United States has just 40 GW under construction.

The researchers focused on solar farms of 20 megawatts (MW) or more that directly feed into the power grid. This methodology means that the actual amount of solar power in China could be much higher, considering that small solar farms account for about 40% of the country’s solar power.

This underscores China’s leading role in global renewable energy production. Meanwhile, the U.S. is increasingly concerned about China’s overcapacity and market dumping, especially in the solar industry.

China has seen remarkable growth in renewable energy development in recent years, fueled by government support. President Xi Jinping has stressed the need for a “new qualitative productive force,” which means moving toward greater technology and innovation in the economy. His plan includes making green manufacturing a key part of that new productive force.

Driving China’s Renewable Energy Boom

The scale of China’s renewable energy expansion is extraordinary: Between March 2023 and March 2024, China installed more solar than in the previous three years combined, and more than the rest of the world combined in 2023.

GEM analysts forecast that China is on track to reach 1,200 GW of installed wind and solar capacity by the end of 2024, six years ahead of the government’s planned target.

“The continued wave of construction ensures that China will continue to lead in wind and solar power installations for the foreseeable future, outpacing the rest of the world,” the report said.

But achieving such impressive numbers is only part of the challenge.

Analysts warn that China will need to invest even more in renewable energy to meet its ambitious goal of reducing the carbon intensity of its economy by 18%. Carbon intensity measures the amount of CO2 emissions created per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated.

Previous research suggests China will need to install between 1,600 GW and 1,800 GW of wind and solar power by 2030 to meet its target of sourcing 25% of all energy from non-fossil sources. Between 2020 and 2023, only 30% of the increase in energy use was met by renewables, falling short of the 50% target.

As quoted GuardianLi Shuo, director of the China Climate Hub at the Asia Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., emphasized the complexity of the transition: “Of course, it’s important for China to continue adding more renewable energy to meet its goals. But it’s not as simple as just building and the problem will be solved… (because) there’s no sign that the country is trying to move away from coal use.”

Balancing Renewable Energy Sources with Energy Security

Despite the rapid growth of renewables, China faces significant challenges. Previous analysis by GEM and the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research found that approvals for new coal-fired power plants quadrupled in 2022-2023 compared with the previous five-year period from 2016 to 2020.

This increase in coal-fired power plant approvals came despite a 2021 commitment to “tightly scrutinize” new coal-fired power plant projects. In addition, overall coal consumption growth rose from an average of 0.5% per year to 3.8% per year between those periods.

Geopolitical tensions such as the war in Ukraine have heightened concerns about energy security around the world. Major power outages in parts of China in recent years have also fueled those concerns, prompting officials to look to coal as a reliable energy source to help solve the problem of intermittent renewable energy.

While the clean energy sector has become a key driver of China’s economic growth, accounting for 40% of GDP growth in 2023, coal remains a key part of the country’s energy strategy.

Analysts are emphasizing the need for better storage and grid flexibility to efficiently harness the growing amount of clean energy generated by China’s wind and solar farms. Recognizing this challenge, the Chinese government has identified lithium-ion batteries as one of the “three new” technologies needed for high-quality growth, alongside electric vehicles and solar panels.

In 2023, China invested $11 billion in grid-connected batteries, a 364% increase compared to 2022.

The GEM report also highlighted China’s performance in building planned renewable energy infrastructure. The 339 GW of wind and solar projects that have reached the construction stage, accounting for a third of proposed projects, far exceeding the global construction rate of 7%.

“China’s renewable energy pipeline is twice as large as the rest of the world,” Li Shuo noted. “But the question we should be asking ourselves more and more is: Why is the rest of the world so slow?”


Daily Action Plan

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