China is on track to meet its wind and solar energy target five years ahead of schedule

According to a report, China is strengthening its position as a world leader in renewable energy and potentially exceeding its own ambitious energy targets.

China is expected to double its capacity and produce 1,200 gigawatts of energy through wind and solar power by 2025, meeting its 2030 goal five years early, according to the report by Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco which monitors the operational utility of large-scale wind and solar farms and future projects in the country.

It says that as of the first quarter of the year, China’s utility-scale solar capacity has reached 228 GW, more than that of the rest of the world combined. The installations are concentrated in the country’s northern and northwest provinces, such as Shanxi, Xinjiang and Hebei.

In addition, the group identified solar farms under construction that could add another 379 GW of potential capacity, triple that of the United States and nearly double that of Europe.

China has also made leaps and bounds in wind capacity: its combined onshore and offshore capacity now exceeds 310 GW, double its 2017 level and is roughly equivalent to that of the next seven countries combined. With new projects in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu and along coastal areas, China is on track to add another 371 GW before 2025, increasing the global wind fleet by nearly half.

These new data provide unrivaled granularity on China’s staggering increase in solar and wind capacity, said Dorothy Mei, project manager at Global Energy Monitor. As we closely monitor the implementation of potential projects, this detailed information becomes indispensable in navigating the country’s energy landscape.

The findings are in line with previous reports and government data released this year, which predicted China could easily exceed its goal of supplying one-third of its energy consumption through renewables by 2030.

China’s green energy push is part of its effort to meet dual carbon targets set in 2020. As the world’s second-largest economy, it is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for half of the world’s coal consumption. Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to peak CO2 in 20202 emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

A coal-fired power plant in Shanghai
A coal-fired power plant in Shanghai. China approved more coal-fired power in the first three months of 2023 than in all of 2021. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

The report attributed China’s remarkable progress in expanding its non-fossil energy sources to the range of policies its government has implemented, including generous subsidies to incentivize developers and regulations to put pressure on provincial governments and manufacturing companies.

China began operating the world’s largest solar-hydroelectric hybrid power plant in the Tibetan Plateau on Sunday. Called Kela, the plant can produce 2 billion kWh of electricity annually, equal to the energy consumption of more than 700,000 households.

It it is just the first phase of a massive clean energy project in the Yalong River Basin. The installation now has a capacity of 20 GW and is expected to reach around 50 GW by 2030.

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Despite China’s careful planning, its energy transition is not without its challenges. In recent years, record heatwaves and droughts have crippled hydroelectric plants, causing energy crises that have shut down factories. An outdated electricity grid and inflexible energy transfer between regions add to the uncertainty.

The Kela plant is located in the sparsely populated western part of the country, where more than three-quarters of its power is generated from coal, wind and solar. But the vast majority of energy consumption occurs in the east. Transporting energy thousands of miles across the country causes inefficiencies.

The way China’s grid is organized can incentivize the construction of coal-fired plants around renewable generators. Much of the new renewable capacity is not connected to local energy supply and is often coupled with coal power to be transmitted to areas of greatest demand.

More coal-fired power was approved in the first three months of 2023 than in all of 2021.

China is making strides, said Martin Weil, a researcher at the Global Energy Monitor and author of the report. But with coal still dominating as the dominant energy source, the country needs bolder advances in energy storage and green technologies for a secure energy future.

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