China’s Opportunity for 80% Clean Power by 2035

October 26, 2022

Falling costs for both renewable energy and battery storage create an opportunity for China to exceed its current policy goals for decarbonizing power while cutting energy costs and increasing energy security. A new study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) finds China could reach 80% carbon-free electricity by 2035  while reducing consumer costs. It could do so by leveraging its abundant domestic renewable resources and unparalleled capability to build infrastructure.

The study, recently published in the journal iScience, looked at various effects from increasing carbon-free sources on the country’s electric grid, including cost, reliability, emissions, public health, and employment.

“Many recent studies have looked at the potential for China to largely decarbonize its electricity system by 2050, but few have looked at the potential—and the benefits—of a faster transition to clean energy,” said Berkeley Lab staff scientist and Nat Simons Presidential Chair in China Energy Policy Jiang Lin, a lead author of the study.

China’s current policy calls for power from non-fossil sources to reach half of the total electricity generation by 2030. Under this current policy scenario, the study finds, non-fossil generation would reach 60% in 2035. But by expanding its capacity from onshore as well as offshore wind, and solar panels, China could cost-effectively reach 80% of carbon-free electricity instead.

“This faster transition is possible even with an almost 50% increase in electricity demand by 2035 from 2020 levels,” said Nina Khanna, a Berkeley Lab researcher and a co-author of the study.

At the same time, carbon emissions from the power sector would fall 50% by 2035 from 2020 levels, and annual deaths related  to particulate matter pollution from electricity generation also would fall by about half. Meanwhile, the job gains in clean energy sectors would more than offset those lost in coal-related industries.

“China no longer needs to rely on new coal power plants to meet growing demand affordably and reliably,” said Nikit Abhyankar, a Berkeley Lab research scientist and a lead author of the study. “With a mix of renewable energy and energy storage, it can ensure a stable grid at a lower cost, all while lowering pollution and meeting climate goals.”

Co-authors with Lin and Abhyankar are Frederich (Fritz) Kahrl, Shengfei Yin, Umed Paliwal, Xu (Angela) Liu, Nina Khanna, Qian Luo, and Amol Phadke of Berkeley Lab; David Wooley of the University of California, Berkeley; and Mike O’Boyle, Olivia Ashmoore, Robbie Orvis, and Michelle Solomon of Energy Innovation.
This research was funded by the Hewlett Foundation, Growald Climate Foundation, Energy Foundation China, and MJS Foundation.