China’s Pledge to be Carbon Neutral by 2060 – Here’s what you need to know | Part 2

 

In the wake of the announcement, different research groups who works closely with the government comes up with several proposals for how China could reach neutrality before 2060. The plans differ in their details, but agree that China must first begin to generate most of its electricity from zero-emission sources, and then expand the use of this clean power wherever possible, it will also need technologies that can capture CO2 released from burning fossil fuels or biomass and store it underground, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Ramp up nuclear

A scenario led by energy modeller Jiang Kejun at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing would see emissions peak as soon as 2022, at around 10 gigatonnes of CO2, followed by a steep drop to net zero by 2050.

To achieve this, electricity production would double to 14,800 terawatt hours by 2050 and it would be generated largely by nuclear power (28%), followed by wind (21%), solar (17%), hydropower (14%) and biomass (8%). Coal and gas would make up 12% of electricity production.

This means that China’s nuclear capacity would need to increase 5-fold, to 554 gigawatts by 2050, through rapid construction of new sites.

According to Jiang’s analysis, nuclear power can supply a more consistent base load of power than can solar and wind. He adds that the latest nuclear-plant designs are safe and produce minimal radioactive waste.

But many researchers are sceptical about nuclear’s potential. The cost and time required to build the plants has increased significantly, says Zhang. And the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan has made building plants inland unacceptable to much of the public, he says.

wind-turbines-sunset

Renewable boost

Another group led by Zhang Xiliang, a climate modeller at Tsinghua University in Beijing suggests that theelectricity production would need to be more than double, to 15,034 terawatt hours by 2060, largely from clean sources.

This growth would be driven by a massive ramp-up of renewable electricity generation over the next 40 years, including a 16-fold increase in solar and a 9-fold increase in wind. To replace coal-fired power generation, nuclear power would need to increase sixfold, and hydroelectricity to double.

Fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas, would still account for 16% of energy consumed, so would need to be paired with CCS or offset by new forest growth and technologies that can take CO2 directly out of the atmosphere.

Challenges

Shifting China’s economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels in such a short time will be very expensive. Coal-fired power accounts for almost 65% of the country’s electricity generation, with more than 200 new coal-fired power stations planned or under construction. There will be tremendous opposition and resistance from industries that rely on fossil fuels. 

To expand its CCS capabilities would also require significant investment, because China currently has only one large CCS facility in operation, at an oil field. Seven more facilities are being planned or built. CCS would allow China to continue using some coal-fired power in the long term, but some researchers say the technology is still very expensive, which limits its application.

In addition, ensuring stable operation of the electricity grid, given the intermittent nature of wind and solar power, will be another challenge, says Yu Sha, an energy researcher at the University of Maryland, in Washington DC, who has also worked on modelling China’s energy system.

In the next blog, we will talk about the massive opportunities the revolution will bring for accelerating your science and technology startup, stay tuned.

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