Sunsetting coal power in China

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Reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity generation in China will be critical to efforts to limit global warming. Long-term projections of China’s electricity supply tend to assume that coal generation will be a mainstay of China’s electricity system through 2050, due to limitations in the scalability of hydropower, nuclear, and natural gas generation and optimistic assumptions about the commercial availability of carbon capture and storage. This paper uses an analytical model to examine the resource, economic, and institutional implications of reducing and replacing coal generation in China with mostly renewable energy and energy storage by 2040. We find that the scale of solar, wind, and storage resources needed to do so is on the order of 100-150 GW yr-1 of solar and wind capacity and 15 GW yr-1 of energy storage from 2020 to 2025, growing to 250 GW yr-1 and 90 GW yr-1, respectively, from 2025 to 2040. Significant changes in the planning, market, and regulatory institutions in China’s electricity system would be needed to enable this transition.

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