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China on track to hit new clean & dirty power records in 2022: Maguire

China is set to delight and depress climate trackers in equal measure in 2022 by setting new global records in both clean power utilisation and coal-fired electricity emissions.

China’s electricity generation from solar power was up by more than 30% in January to October on the same period in 2021, while electricity from wind power jumped 25% to cement the country’s status as by far the world’s largest deployer of renewable energy, data from Ember shows.

But over the same period, China’s use of coal to produce electricity also climbed to new highs, as did the associated emissions.

Indeed, if China’s coal use follows traditional seasonal patterns and rises by roughly 30% in December from October’s total, then full-year carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electricity production will top 4.5 billion tonnes in 2022.

That’s more carbon dioxide than all of Europe’s energy sector emitted in 2021, and marks a 1 billion tonne rise in China’s coal-powered electricity emissions since 2017, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

China’s total power needs in 2022 have been curbed by repeated COVID-19 lockdowns that have hampered manufacturing activity in several areas and slowed industrial output.
If China’s economic activity had been stronger this year, it is likely that the country’s coal use and emissions would have been even higher, especially as record-high natural gas prices reduced the economic appeal for power producers of switching from coal to cleaner-burning gas.

COVID containment measures continue to stifle overall economic activity and spending, while a weakening property sector is causing a steep drop in domestic investment that may further curb overall power use in the months ahead.

However, the gloomy macroeconomic environment is likely to spur Beijing to unveil policies designed to stimulate domestic demand to offset the weaker parts of the economy, which could propel overall energy use higher in 2023.

If the global natural gas market remains disrupted in 2023 by Europe’s pivot away from Russian supplies following the invasion of Ukraine, then China is again likely to favor expansion of coal-fired capacity over gas – even if emissions continue to trend higher.

Given the fervent global opposition to coal use amid the intensifying battle against climate change, China’s mammoth coal pollution totals might appear to be entirely at odds with the country’s stated ambition of being a climate leader.

Yet Beijing views near-term energy security as being vital for long-term economic stability and is comfortable with deploying dirty power today while building clout in the clean energy technologies of tomorrow.

Indeed, Beijing’s commitment to developing renewable energy supplies at unmatched scale cannot be questioned.

The country deployed more renewable energy generation capacity in 2021 than the rest of the world combined.

In 2022, China’s expansions in solar and wind power have put it on track to hit 3,000 terawatt-hours of clean energy electricity generation – far more than any other country – and lifted the share of clean energy in China’s electricity mix to a national record of 31.9%, Ember data shows.

That compares to a 26.3% share in 2015, and puts China top among global leaders in terms of large-scale clean energy deployment.

Climate trackers often despair that China’s world-leading renewable energy advances take place alongside similarly dominant coal usage.

But the scale of China’s impact on the clean energy front is proportional to its economic clout, which has been fuelled in recent decades by billions of tonnes of coal.

The good news for climate trackers, however, is that Beijing is committed to a much cleaner energy mix in the future.
Source: Reuters (Reporting By Gavin Maguire)

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