China renewable energy growth soars whilst coal use declines

Published: 07 Mar 2016

China’s solar and wind energy capacity increased by 74% and 34%, respectively, in 2015, while coal consumption dropped by 3.7%

China’s National Bureau of Statistics released figures for 2015 this week, and officials believe that the country’s current growth path will allow them to soon surpass their carbon emissions targets. Specifically, China broke two new records in 2015, installing a record 32.5% of wind in 2015, and a record 18.3 GW of solar in 2015 — both of which were higher than initial estimates.

“The latest figures confirm China’s record-breaking shift toward renewable power and away from coal,” said Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). “Solar and wind continue to be the big winners, as illustrated by a 73.7% increase in grid-connected solar generation capacity. Declining consumption coupled with an over-abundance of domestic supply, meaning coal imports into China were particularly badly hit, dropping 30.4% yoy.”

Timothy Buckley also makes note of just how fast global electricity markets are transforming. Despite China’s confirmed figures being largely in line with initial estimates, they nevertheless highlight that global electricity markets “are transforming a great deal faster than anyone actually expected.”

The transformation is nothing without the corresponding decrease in fossil fuels, and China seems to be making strong headway towards its goals to decrease its coal usage and import. 2015 saw coal consumption decline 3.7%, year-over-year, and net coal imports dropped a much more significant 30.4% year-over-year, down to 198.7 million tonnes. This trend has already been seen to continue into 2016, with January’s net coal imports dropping by 11.6% year-over-year.

“IEEFA forecasts that China will install an additional 22 GW of wind, 16GW of new hydro, another 6GW of nuclear, and 18GW of solar (60% utility scale, 40% distributed rooftop solar) in 2016,” explained Buckley. “With electricity demand forecast to grow by 3.0-3.5% yoy in 2016, this 62GW of additional zero carbon electricity capacity will be more than sufficient to meet total electricity demand growth, such that coal consumption is forecast to fall again in 2016.” 

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