Policy action needed by Beijing government for China to reach renewables potential next decade, says new report
By Sophie Yeo
China could boost renewable energy fourfold by 2030, accounting for 20% of global solar, wind, hydro and biomass use.
The country could increase its use of modern renewables from 7% in 2010 to 26% by the end of the next decade using existing technologies, finds a report into China’s energy future by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
But this will require a new policy drive from the Chinese government, it says.
Without additional action, the share of renewable energy will only increase to 16%, the report finds. These figures exclude the use of traditional biomass, which is largely used in cooking and can cause health problems.
“As the largest energy consumer in the world, China must play a pivotal role in the global transition to a sustainable energy future,” said Adnan Z. Amin, head of IRENA, at a launch event in Beijing.
“China’s energy use is expected to increase 60% by 2030. How China meets that need will determine whether or not the world can curb climate change.”
The world’s largest carbon polluter recently agreed an historic deal with the US to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
In a landmark statement alongside US president Barack Obama, president Xi Jinping pledged to peak its emissions and increase the share of renewables 20% by 2030.
Achieving IRENA’s estimate of 26% will require investment of $145 billion every year between now and 2030 – an increase of $54 billion per year on current projections.
And to make renewables cost-competitive with coal, China would need to put a nationwide price on carbon of about $50 per tonne of CO2. China has a national carbon market in the pipeline for 2016, and has already established seven regional systems.
Based on today’s market prices, wind and solar become cost-competitive with cheap and polluting coal when co-benefits are factored in, including the improved air quality and impact on human health.
IRENA estimates that the improved health and reduced CO2 emissions of implementing its renewables roadmap would bring savings of between $55-228 billion to China’s economy every year – more than the additional investment required.
Even so, this increased uptake of renewables would not be enough to keep climate change to safe levels, warns IRENA in the report.
Its suggested measures would decrease coal by 18% by 2030, to roughly around today’s levels.
It says: “China will need to continue to deploy renewables beyond 2030, and improve energy efficiency in end-use sectors, in order to transition to a sustainable energy system.”