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Home > Hongqiao and YRD>Ecological Development

Nation leads way with renewable energy

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By ZHENG XIN| China Daily| Updated: October 17, 2022

Editor's note: A survey among China Daily's overseas readers ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China shows that the nation's ecological progress, economy, diplomacy, science and technology, and the Belt and Road Initiative are among some of the most closely observed issues. China Daily is publishing a series of special articles to offer readers an in-depth look at these topics.

Steady growth tipped, particularly for solar power installation

Supported by full supply chains and robust policy measures, China has achieved leapfrog development in renewable energy in recent years, with its installed capacity ranking top globally.

After years of development, the nation is the world's largest producer of wind and solar power, as well as the largest domestic and outbound investor in renewable energy, according to the National Energy Administration.

In the past 10 years, total installed capacity for renewable energy generation in China rose to 1.1 billion kilowatts, with generation capacity of hydropower, wind, solar and biomass ranking top worldwide. The combined installed capacity of wind and solar power has reached 670 million kWs, almost 90 times the level in 2012, the administration said.

During the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period, China's renewable energy generation capacity is expected to account for more than 50 percent of the total, and the generation capacity for wind and solar power will be doubled, further cementing the nation's role as a global leader in renewable energy capacity growth, according to the administration.

Wei Hanyang, a power market analyst at research company BloombergNEF, said part of the reason for this rapid development is China's unparalleled advantages in boosting clean power installation due to massive demand from the domestic market. State-owned grid operators have also made efforts to ensure renewables are consumed, rather than wasted.

"Renewable energy has become the principal source of the country's newly added installed generation capacity in recent years, especially solar and wind power. China leads globally in installed capacities for wind, photovoltaic, hydro and biomass power, as it presses ahead with a green development path," Wei said.

He believes the nation's renewable energy sector will see steady growth and that solar power, in particular, will witness further widespread installations.

China's rapid development of renewable energy has also attracted multinationals. Shell plc, SABIC and Honeywell have announced plans in recent years to invest in the nation's renewable energy sector due to its rapid growth momentum and huge potential. Global energy and chemical giants are drawing up local plans that cover a broad range of subsectors such as petrochemicals, hydrogen, vehicle charging stations and carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS.

Shell plc, which is based in London, has steadily invested in China's renewable energy market in recent years. Part of the company's blueprint is to expand its hydrogen footprint in the country by building a network of hydrogen refueling stations in Shanghai — Shell's first hydrogen refueling network in Asia — in cooperation with State-owned enterprise Shenergy Group Co.

The joint venture said it plans to build six to 10 hydrogen refueling stations in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta region in the next five years, rising to 30 stations by 2030.

Shell also expressed optimism about the prospects for CCUS in China, believing it is essential to helping the nation achieve a carbon emission peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

Jason Wong, executive chairman of Shell Companies in China, said the nation's significant geological potential for storing carbon — it has an estimated 2,400 gigatons of storage capacity, second only to that of the United States — means there is plenty of potential to tap.

US energy company ExxonMobil has announced that it will cooperate with China National Offshore Oil Corp and Shell plc to develop a carbon capture and storage, or CCS, hub in Huizhou, Guangdong province. The facility, China's first large-scale offshore CCS hub capable of capturing up to 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and meet the decarbonization needs of enterprises in the area.

Transition stepped up

Luo Zuoxian, head of intelligence and research at the Sinopec Economics and Development Research Institute, said foreign investment in China's energy sector is expected to rise as the nation continues to step up its green energy transition, with the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2060.

"Leading in renewable energy production figures for years, China has a market potential that no other country can match," he said.

State-owned energy enterprises are also helping the country's green energy transition by optimizing their business.

For example, China Petrochemical Corp, also known as Sinopec — the world's largest refiner by volume — has continuously boosted its green hydrogen manufacturing capacity and expanded its hydrogen refueling network across the country.

Taking advantage of its nationwide gas refueling network, the company has actively built its hydrogen refueling network in China. It aims for the refueling capacity for this gas to reach 120,000 tons per year by 2025.

Sinopec has stepped up work at its refinery using green hydrogen, which is derived from renewable sources including solar and wind. It is also working to increase the use of renewable energy in hydrogen production to gradually replace fossil fuel in the refinery sector. The aim is to gain a lead in the high-quality development of the nation's hydrogen market and promote the consumption of cleaner energy in the transportation and industrial sectors.

Thanks to these efforts, China has developed a complete industrial system for renewable energy technology during the past 10 years. The nation now independently designs and manufactures the world's largest megawatt-scale hydraulic turbine set. Solar power generation technology has witnessed rapid development, and 10 offshore wind turbines have also entered volume production, according to the energy administration.

As a result, the scale of development and use of renewable energy in China was equivalent to 753 million tons of standard coal last year, reducing 2.07 billion tons of carbon dioxide, 400,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 450,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, the administration said.

The nation's rapid development of renewable energy has further boosted global employment. According to the recently released Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2022 from the International Renewable Energy Agency, employment worldwide in the sector reached 12.7 million jobs last year, with China accounting for nearly half the total, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the global energy crisis.

Nearly two-thirds of these jobs are in Asia, with China taking up 42 percent of the global figure, followed by the European Union and Brazil with 10 percent each, and the US and India with 7 percent each.

Last year, 5.4 million people were employed in the renewable energy sector in China, up from 4.7 million in 2020. Of these positions, solar photovoltaic claimed the largest share, with a workforce estimated at close to 2.7 million, up from 2.3 million in 2020.

China also accounted for 48 percent of the 1.4 million jobs in the global onshore and offshore wind market last year, even though the 47 gigawatts added to the sector was considerably less than the previous year. The nation was also the largest contributor to hydropower jobs, accounting for 37 percent of such employment globally, despite the pandemic delaying completion of some projects.

Liu Dechun, director of the Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic regulator, believes China can peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 as planned, because it has made considerable progress in its green and low-carbon energy transformation during the past decade.

China's clean energy consumption accounted for 25.5 percent of total energy use last year, a rise of 11 percentage points from 2012. Its share of coal consumption stood at 56 percent last year, a fall of 12.5 percentage points from 2012, the department said.

The nation's installed capacity for generating wind and photovoltaic power rose by about 12-fold from 2012, and its new energy power generation output exceeded 1 trillion kilowatt-hours for the first time.

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