China’s electric power generation, rising proportion from water, wind and sun

September 21, 2017

On September 7 this blog posted an analysis of China’s amazing shift to electric power capacity built on renewable sources – from water, wind and sun. Now I am able to supplement that post with details of China’s electricity generation, with again a focus on generation from renewable WWS sources. The central results are given below, in Fig. 1.

 

Figure 1. China’s annual generation of electricity, 1990-2016

 

 

 

The chart shows the total power generation in China rising from less than 1000 TWh in the early 1990s to 6000 TWh (or billion kWh) by 2016 – by far the largest such total in the world. A clear inflection point at 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, is evident. The red stippled line shows electricity sourced from coal and other fossil fuels rising in step with the total generation up until recently, when it becomes ‘capped’ at 4300 TWh. The chart indicates that this cap is unlikely to be exceeded – ever. Meanwhile power generated from renewable sources – WWS – is shown in the blue line which rises at the lower end of the chart, to reach 1500 TWh by 2016 – or 25% of total power generated. The bold line shows this proportion steadily rising, with some temporary upturns and downturns associated with hydro availability, rising from 15% in 2007 to 25% in 2016 – or a 10% green shift in a decade. Almost all of this is due to increases in power generation from wind and solar PV sources. The contribution from nuclear is shown at the very bottom of the chart – it is insignificant.

 

The second chart shows just the proportional curves, based on capacity additions to the system (where the proportion of capacity sourced from WWS reaches 35% by 2016), and then based on electric power generated, where the proportion generated from WWS sources reaches 25% by 2016.

 

Figure 2. Chinese electric power: proportion from WWS sources, by capacity and by generation

 

 

 

Both curves in Fig. 2 reveal the same clear green shift, with the shift more prominent in terms of changes in capacity than in changes in actual power generated. But the extent of the green shift in each case is striking. In the case of power generation there is a shift from 15% in 2007 to 25% in 2016 – or a 10% shift over the past decade. In the case of capacity additions the shift is more marked, rising from 20% in 2007 to 35% in 2016, or a 15% change in the past decade.

 

The Chinese electric power system is a vast technoeconomic complex that is still burning a lot of coal – but it is greening at the margin as fast as such a mega system can physically, economically and socially change. How rapidly China’s electric power system is changing compared with other industrial countries will be the subject of the next blog entry.

 

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