China Renewable Energy Outlook shows pathways to a more sustainable energy future
China can reach its energy and environmental goals, but further policy measures are required for comprehensive energy transition to a sustainable low-carbon system. This is a main conclusion in the China Renewable Energy Outlook 2016, a new comprehensive study launched at the International Energy Transition Forum in Suzhou Monday 31 October 2016
“China needs energy for its further economic development but if we continue to rely heavily on coal, we will be stuck with an energy system, which pollutes, depletes our resources and confines us to the old industrial world”. Wang Zhongying, Vice Director General in ERI, director for China National Renewable Energy Centre and responsible for the China Renewable Energy Outlook, is serious about the problems created by the current energy system, but also optimistic about the future possibilities. “In tandem with the new industry revolution we must create a new energy revolution. Our analyses in the outlook show that renewable energy is ready to take the role as the back bone of the system within the next 15 years. A high share of renewables in the energy system in 2030 will not only reduce coal consumption and CO2 emissions substantially but also create a pathway towards a long-term low-carbon energy system”.
China Renewable Energy Outlook 2016 is the first renewable energy outlook from China Renewable Energy Centre (CNREC), a think tank within Energy Research Institute under NDRC. The Outlook analyses two scenarios for the future development of the Chinese energy system towards 2030.
The “Stated Policy Scenario” shows the impact of the current energy policy in China and the “High Renewable Energy Penetration Scenario” analyses the possibility of going even further with the deployment of renewable energy. In the Stated Policy Scenario, wind power capacity soars from 130 GW today to 500 GW in 2030 and solar PV develops from 43 GW to 500 GW. As a result, coal consumption decreases and CO2 emissions stabilise ca 2025.
The High Renewable Energy Penetration Scenario has 1000 GW wind power and 1100 GW solar PV in 2030. Here CO2 emissions decrease from today’s level peaking before 2020 and in 2030 the emissions are reduced by 12% compared with today. Coal consumption is reduced by 28% compared with consumption today. The analyses show that it is possible to integrate large shares of renewable energy into the Chinese energy system if the right policy measures are implemented. An efficient power market, with transparent electricity prices, is the single most important driver for cost efficient integration of renewable energy. At the same time coal power will find a new role as providers of flexibility in a system where renewable energy takes over the role of back-bone of the power supply.
China Renewable Energy Outlook has been developed as part of the larger program for boosting renewable energy in China, supported by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Danish Government.
In Suzhou the Danish Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Danish Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate highlighted the importance of comprehensive studies like the China Renewable Energy Outlook. “The Outlook clearly shows the importance of flexibility in the power system. The Danish experiences show that coal fired power plants can be operated very flexibly and we are able to integrate very large amount of wind power, thanks to flexible power plants, efficient power markets and flexible use of the electric interconnectors”.
China Renewable Energy Outlook 2016 is the first issue from CNREC. After the launch in Suzhou the work on next year’s outlook begins together with the US based National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Danish Energy Agency, and the new German partners GIZ, Agora Energiewende and DENA.
Europe is these years’ test laboratory for the future power system, and Europe’s “new normal” will also become the Chinese power sector’s “new normal” in the future. Here are some early take-aways from the European energy transformation.
In the beginning of July the Danish wind power plants produced a record high 140% of the electricity consumption in Denmark two nights in a row and then dropped to almost zero within a half day without any disturbance in the power system. Similarily, on the morning of March 20th, the German grid operators managed to deal with the rapid fluctuations of 39,000 MW of solar PV during the solar eclipse.
These two examples illustrate that the future European electricity system will be completely different from the electricity system during the last century, which was mainly based on fossil fueled and nuclear power plants. The future, European energy system will have variable energy production from wind and solar as the backbone and the remaining thermal power plants (fossil or nuclear fueled) will adapt to the variation in the load as well as the variation in the production from solar and wind. According to a recent, European study from Agora Energiewende, it is claimed that in 2040 there will be no base-load power unit left in Europe (base-load units produce with full capacity day and night for a longer period, typically with around 6000 or more hours with full-load during a year’s 8760 hours).
How will this be possible without jeopardizing the security of supply? The keyword here is “flexibility”. Flexible power plants, flexible dispatch of transmission lines and flexibility in the demand will do the trick, which has already been demonstrated by the European experiences. Maybe in the future electricity storage would be an additional tool in the flexibility toolbox, but the European experiences indicate that it is possible to cope with large amount of variable power without expensive storage.
China also wants a deep transformation of the energy system – a Chinese “energy revolution” – with a higher percentage of renewable energy. So what could China learn from the European experiences?
In my opinion there are four main lessons from the energy transition in Europe:
1. Fossil fueled power plant can be very flexible.
In Denmark coal-fired power can operate down to 10% of installed capacity, they can change their production up and down very quickly and they can start up fast. The power plants were not as such born with good characteristics regarding flexibility; they have been developed by a thorough trial-and-improve process. The main achievements have been reached by training and changed in the control centre of the power plant – not by massive new investments.
The Chinese coal fired power plant are very similar to the Danish power plants, most of them are even newer, therefore technical problems in creating the same flexibility for the Chinese power plants will not be likely.
2. An efficient power market with hourly prices is necessary to create flexibility in the power system.
The owner of a power plant would only consider flexible operation if it is beneficial for him/her, either by recieving a reward for flexibility or being punished for inflexible operation. The European market system with hourly prices, depending on the supply and the demand, clearly gives incentives for producing when the price is high (lower production and/or high demand) and to stop producing when the price is low (increased production and/or low demand). If your power plant is inflexible you will soon start loosing money because your costs often will be higher than the price that you recieve for the electricity produced. Some European power markets even require you to pay to get rid of your production, if the supply is higher than the demand.
In China the power producers have no incentives for being flexible. On the contrary they will loose money and market shares if they try to run the power plants by flexible standards. This is one of the most significant obstacles for integration of wind and solar, and it explains to a large extent why China is in the habit of curtailing wind power production, while this is very rare in Europe. Luckily, the Chinese government is pushing for a revival of the power market reform, which hopefully will create the necessary incentives for flexibility.
3. The transmission system must be large and flexible.
The European experiences clearly shows that the large transmission systems are very efficient in integrating variable energy. Transmission systems allow for reducing the variability of wind and solar by integrating larger areas – this is often called the “smoothening effect”, because the wind speed and the solar radiation is not often the same all over Europe. But it requires that the transmission system is operated in a flexible way. If the dispatch of a transmission line is fixed, e.g. on a monthly basis, it is of no use in the wind and solar power production, which is typically predictable from day to day and often will deviate from the forecast within the day of operation.
In China the transmission system has been developed rapidly during the last ten years, and a large number of long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines are being build or are in the planning stage. However, the transmission lines are not being dispatched in a flexible manner and the long-distance lines are typically planed to be base-load supply to the load centres. This is a huge obstacle for harvesting the benefits from renewable energy by efficient integration of the variable production. Also the Chinese transmission lines should be part of the future Chinese power market and operated according to the price signals from the market.
4. The changing mindset in the power sector.
The last two decades have not been easy for the typical old-school power sector CEO. He was used to lead a large monopoly company, which basically could decide on its own how and when to establish new power generation; it’s customers could not change to another company, and no competitors were allowed to have access to the grid. Today it is totally different. The coal fired power plants are threatened by renewable energy, the customers can choose other suppliers or even choose to produce by themselves with distributed generation and the transmission grid are owned and operated by independent system operators looking at the society as a whole and not only on the profit of the generators. The best of the old power producers have adapted to the new situation – maybe slowly, but nevertheless, they are now ready to be a part of the future power sector. Others are still stuck in the old-school thinking and they will experience even harder times in the future and have a difficulty surviving in the not-so-long run.
The Chinese, energy transformation has only recently begun and most of the power sector’s mindset is still turned on to the existing “normal” with coal power as the backbone of the power system. But also in China the “new normal” will be a much more flexible power system with renewable energy in a dominant role. The lessons from Europe are that the most agile companies are the survivors, because they are able to foresee and adapt to the future framework conditions and will not risk being stuck in the old-school “normal”.
This blog was first published at boostre.cnrec.org.cn.
New report from CCICED on China’s environmental protection and social development
At the annual meeting 13 to 15 November 2013 in the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) a Task Force for China’s environmental protection and social development launched a summary report with 6 recommendations for how to ensure development of an “Ecological Civilisation”. This vision includes a harmonious society, sharing the fruits of development and safeguarding social justice and equity, but there is an urgent need to deepen the currently weak understanding of environmental and social relationships, and to identify priority fields for action in order to achieve this vision.
The task force operates with a framework for policymakers: 1) Awareness, 2) behaviour and participation, and 3) coordinated governance. The report points to the more soft topics in the necessary transformation of the Chinese society with focus on sustainability and environmental protection, and it sets up a model for how environmental behaviour, public environmental governance and environmental values can be coordinated and jointly developed.
The six recommendations from the Task Force starts with a recommendation on elaboration a vision of coordinated social, economic and environmental development for 2050 and development of a phased plan of policy and actions for the period to 2020. The recommendations also points to a number of activities within the next years to strengthen the long-term vision and the practical next-steps towards more environmental awareness, behaviour and governance. As example, the report suggest that the next five-year plan should be listed as the National Economic, Social and Environmental Development Plan, so that environmental policy and the associated planning will become a significant item in parallel with economic and social policies. Also and Environmental Impact Accessments (EIAs) should be introduced for major policies.
The Task Force comprises both Chinese and international experts, including high-level people from the Research Office of the State Council and from the Energy Research Institute under NDRC. It is definitely worth reading. Find the report at CCICED website.