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Bad news & good news from China

I: China now burns half of the world's coal consumption


China overtook the US as the world's biggest carbon emitter in 2007 and became world's largest energy consumer in 2010
China now burns nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.
The country's appetite for the carbon-intensive fuel rose by 9% in 2011, to 3.8bn tonnes, meaning it now accounts for 47% of worldwide coal consumption.

The growth, revealed by US government figures,  was driven by China's booming economy, which has grown at an average rate of around 10% over the past decade. China overtook the US as the world's biggest carbon emitter in 2007, and became the world's biggest consumer of energy in 2010.
Some 1,000 new coal-fired power plants are still planned worldwide, with 363 in China and 455 in India. If all the plants were built, it would put the world on "a really dangerous trajectory" for climate change, experts at the World Resources Institute said.

China's air pollution problem, highlighted in January 2013 record-breaking bad air quality in Beijing, is caused by a mix of power plants, factories, cars, construction and farmers burning coal for heat.

II: Wind surpasses nuclear as China’s 3rd largest source of electricity

Wind energy is now China’s third largest source of electricity, according to a report from People’s Daily Online. Wind power generation in China totalled 100.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2012, a 0.5% year-on-year increase and surpassing nuclear power generation, according to data presented over the weekend by the China Wind Energy Association (CWEA).

Ambitious state renewable power targets and government support for wind energy manufacturers have fueled rapid development and growth of wind power capacity in China. China had 60.83 GW of installed wind power capacity online as of year-end 2012, according to CWEA. A national target calls for 100 GW of installed capacity by the end of 2015.

The 2% total for 2012 indicates just how fast and far China has progressed in realizing the strategic renewable power goals set out in its latest Five-Year Plan, and just how much it continues to rely on thermal coal and large-scale hydro power to meet its fast growing power needs.

III: Rapid wind power growth despite grid & market challenges

In its latest five-year plan (for 2011–2015), China’s leadership again singled out renewable energy as a key, strategic economic sector targeted to receive even greater attention and support.

The CWEA has revealed hurdles to bringing wind and other renewable power generation online and on the grid. Though reaching a cumulative record-high in 2012, growth in wind power capacity additions actually slowed to 14 gigawatts (GW) in 2012 from 20.66 GW in 2011, according to data presented by CWEA chairman He Dexin. He identified wind turbine overcapacity, growing international trade protectionism, grid interconnection challenges, and wind power generation wastage as bottlenecks for bringing additional wind power capacity online. Nonetheless, CWEA forecasts wind power capacity in China will grow to 18 GW in 2013, as local governments accelerate approval of wind power generation projects.

Government-led market-oriented reform is needed to address the problem of curtailment, whereby grid-connected wind-generated electricity is held back by grid operators. Some 20 billion kWh of wind-generated electricity was lost to curtailment in 2012. Meng Xian’gan, secretary-general of the China Renewable Energy Society, explains:  “Grid companies lack economic incentives to take in more wind power, as government-dictated on-grid wholesale prices of wind power are higher than those of coal-generated power.”

IV: China’s new solar target: 40GW by 2015--8 times more than its initial 5GW target

It’s been pretty astounding to watch China essentially double its 2015 solar target three times in the past year and a half or so. Each step of the way, what’s clear is that solar power keeps getting more and more competitive… fast.

Giles Parkinson of Renew Economy writes: “Talk out of China suggests that official bodies in that country are finally ready to lift their target for the deployment of solar to 40GW by 2015.” He also cites this interesting stat: “Just 18 months ago, the 2015 target was just 5GW. But more than that has been installed this year alone.” More than the initial target has been installed in 2012 alone. That is pretty astounding.

This is, for one, a sign of China’s tremendous focus on clean energy, as well as its tremendous overall economic and energy growth. But it’s also a sign that solar power has arrived. Solar has many benefits, and now that its price has dropped to a competitive rate in many places (and is still dropping), those benefits are catapulting it above competing options.

The updated forecast suggests that more than 10GW of solar will be installed in China in each of the next three years. Assuming that solar deployment will continue to increase rather than slow; that suggests a cumulative total of well over 100GW by 2020. That would be equivalent in output to 100 nuclear reactors.

Another key point noted by Renew Economy was that oversupply of solar modules and solar module components (especially in China), which is partly triggered by cuts in solar feed-in tariffs in Europe, is further stimulating solar-friendly policies and deployment in the world’s largest country.

40GW of Solar PV in perspective
At the end of 2011, the top 5 countries for total installed solar PV power capacity (and their capacity) were: Germany — 24.7 GW, Italy — 12.8 GW, Japan — 4.9 GW, Spain — 4.4 GW, USA — 4.4 GW. In other words, 41 GW of solar power is really a big deal.

US solar installations at the end of 2012 broke the US record for previous years. That record was 2 GW. In total, US 2012 installations hit about 3.2 GW, and that will bring cumulative US solar capacity to over 7 GW. That sounded like a lot, but  China’s 4.5 GW in 2012 year definitely raises the bar.

A final point to consider: the new Chinese 40GW by 2015 target is simply a target. The country expects to surpass the target by a good amount. We can only hope their expectations keep increasing.


♦ Sources:
I: Adam Vaughan forThe Guardian

IV: Zachary Shahan for

5.2. 2013



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