The world’s largest consumer of coal could undergo a dramatic transformation in its energy profile in the coming decades, according to a report released this week.
China could get 85 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2050, according to the China 2050 High Renewable Energy Penetration Scenario and Roadmap Study, a nongovernmental report by Energy Foundation China.
Reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, particularly coal, is both technically and economically possible, the report found. In fact, non-fossil fuel sources could account for 91 percent of China’s total power generation, a scenario in which coal-fired power generation would drop from 75 percent to less than 7 percent, without sacrificing reliability. Wind and solar would be China’s “backbone” energy sources.
“We hope that renewable energy in China can be developed quickly and on a large scale,” said Li Junfeng, the director general for China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, a sponsor of the report.
Li acknowledged that the report’s projections are ambitious, but “you can make a dream, at least,” he told the audience during the report’s release in Washington, D.C.
If China wants to become a developed nation, it’s important to switch from a heavy-industrial economy to a low-carbon economy, and renewable energy will play a key role in that, he said.
Last year, China and the United States reached a carbon emissions agreement in which China committed to getting 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and to capping its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. By the end of 2014, the country of 1.3 billion had cut its coal consumption for the first time in more than a decade.
If it’s going to move off coal, the country doesn’t have much in the way of traditional energy resources, said Melanie Hart, director for China Policy at the Center for American Progress.
“What do they have at home that they can ramp up very fast? Solar and wind,” Hart told ThinkProgress. “It’s important to realize this study is aspirational, but, at the same time, what China has done over the past 10 to 20 years is to take things that seem aspirational and impossible, and not only do those things but go well beyond.
China’s move to renewables will be “the world’s biggest clean energy technology experiment,” Hart said. “They are full speed ahead on renewable energy, and their motives are not the global community.”
Under pressure from its own population, battling this historic, costly, and unhealthy pollution has become a priority in recent years for China. China currently gets about two-thirds of its energy from coal, and coal is dirty. Air pollution has reportedly been responsible for 1.2 million premature deaths in China.
The report’s authors recognize that the goals outlined are ambitious, but they also indicate the trend towards renewables is inevitable.
“In the history of energy, it is an irreversible path that we will gradually move away from dependence on fossil fuels and transit to a ‘high renewable energy penetration’ future,” the report states.