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China’s electricity could go 85% renewable by 2050

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A rapid rollout of wind, solar and bioenergy is technologically and economically feasible, a report led by the China National Renewable Energy Centre claims.

In a “high renewable” scenario, the country’s coal use would peak in 2020 and its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 – five years ahead of target.

“China can no longer rely on coal,” said Li Junfeng, a top climate official at the National Development and Reform Commission. There is pressure to clean up air pollution as well as greenhouse gases.

“We hope that renewable energy in China can be developed quickly and at large scale, to make the peak time as early as possible and as small as possible.”

Li was speaking at the US release of the report in Washington, hosted by Resources for the Future.

The study follows a similar analysis in 2012 finding the US could get 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. US and Danish experts contributed to the China report.

Going down the high renewables route will take “a big effort,” Li said, with financial and technological innovation as well as policy reform.

Economic growth remains top priority for China, with GDP set to grow sevenfold from 2010 to 2050.

“If China can solve their problems with energy in a sustainable way, other countries certainly can follow,” Li added.

High levels of solar and wind power pose challenges for electricity systems, as output fluctuates according to the weather.

The Chinese study found that with increased power trading, storage and demand response as well as more flexible use of coal and gas, this was manageable.

Samuel Baldwin, a senior official at the US Department of Energy, highlighted examples of high levels of renewable power being successfully integrated.

Portugal got 70% of its power from renewables in the first quarter of 2013 – 37% from the more predictable hydropower. Ireland at times gets half its electricity from wind.

“It is very exciting to see this study from China,” said Baldwin.

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“China’s electricity could go 85% renewable by 2050”