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Wind power: A file picture showing employees of a wind farm in Hebei province. In 2021, China accounted for 35% of all wind generation worldwide, almost as much as the United States (21%) and the European Union (21%) combined. — AFP

CHINA’S massive deployment of renewable generators is starting to limit its heavy reliance on coal-fired power stations, ensuring the government remains on track to achieve its target of overall emissions peaking before 2030.

Total electricity generation increased by 240 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 3.6%, between January and October compared with the same period in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Reflecting the impact of repeated lockdowns, growth was the slowest since the pandemic in 2020 and before that the broad economic slowdown in 2015 (“Output of energy products”, NBS, Nov 15).

But zero-emissions sources accounted for almost 74% of the total increase in generation, with thermal generators, overwhelmingly coal, contributing just 26%.

Generation from wind farms increased by 100 billion kWh (22%) compared with the previous year, while output from solar power increased by 45 billion kWh (30%).

There were smaller proportional contributions to growth from thermal generators (63 billion kWh, just 1%), hydro-electric units (28 billion kWh, 3%) and nuclear (4 billion kWh, 1%).

The massive increase in wind and solar generation is the result of a huge expansion of installed capacity over the last two years.

Wind farm capacity increased 17% while solar capacity increased 29% in the first nine months of 2022, compared with the same period of 2021.




Wind capacity had already increased 33% while solar increased 25% in the first nine months of 2021, compared with 2020.

As a result, wind capacity reached 348 Gigawatts (GW) in September 2022, up from 223 million GW in September 2020, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA).

Solar capacity similarly increased to 359 GW in September 2022 from 223 million GW in September 2020 (“National power industry statistics”, NEA, Oct. 21).

In 2021, China accounted for 35% of all wind generation worldwide, almost as much as the United States (21%) and the European Union (21%) combined (“Statistical review of world energy”, BP, 2022).

China is even more dominant in solar generation (32% of the world total) compared with the United States (16%) and the European Union (16%).

Coal displacement

Coal remains the dominant source of generation, with thermal mostly coal power plants accounting for 69% of all kilowatt-hours generated in 2021, compared with just 22% in the United States and 15% in the European Union.

But the country’s massive investment in renewables is on the verge of starting to displace coal-fired generation and beginning the long process of relegating it to a reserve role.