Written By: Natalie Baer
By producing 80% of its power generation from clean energy by 2050, China could reduce its energy-related emissions by 90%, and at a far lower cost than depending on coal, reveals a new WWF report.
According to the report, China could reduce its energy emissions by 90% without slowing its economic growth or compromising the reliability of the country’s energy grid. To achieve this, China, the world’s largest carbon-dioxide (CO2) emitter and consumer of half the world’s coal, would need to phase out the use of coal completely by 2040. Increasing energy-efficiency measures and escalating carbon prices through emissions trading schemes would also be key to the success of the plan.
China, which positions itself as a leader in renewable energy, already produces 20% of its energy share from renewable sources. The new report says that China could increase this amount to 80% by making several changes in how they produce and use energy.
The report, prepared by the Energy Transition Research Institute (Entri) for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), used computer modeling to simulate four scenarios of China’s electricity demand and grid model through 2050, based on today’s proven technologies.
Results from the ‘High Renewables’ scenario (using renewable-energy technologies as much as possible) showed that a significant boost in renewable energy and aggressive reduction in coal use by 2050 could reduce emissions from its energy sector to 250 million tons of CO2-equivalent per year. The ‘Baseline’ (business-as-usual) scenario showed that levels would plateau at around 4 billion tons.
China’s coal emissions are extremely harmful to its population. A 2013 study found that China’s coal plant emissions caused a quarter of a million premature deaths in 2011, while damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children.
For the modeled emission reductions to become reality, extensive changes in China’s policies would need to be implemented. These changes would include a federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level (the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Clean Air Act), a ban on the development of new coal plants, and tougher emission standards on existing fossil-fuel plants. High carbon taxes and strong emissions trading schemes would make renewable energy more attractive, as well.
The report also demonstrated that over the period 2011–2050, the total costs for an electric power system run primarily with renewables would be cheaper than a system dominated by coal.
Of all the scenarios, the ‘High Renewables’ scenario showed the lowest levels of carbon emissions and had the lowest total cost.
“By fully embracing energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables, China has the potential to demonstrate to the world that economic growth is possible [even] while sharply reducing the emissions that drive unhealthy air pollution and climate change”, says WWF China’s Climate and Energy Program Director, Lunyan Lu. “This research shows that with strong political [support], China can prosper while eliminating coal from its power mix within the next 30 years.”