For the first time in history, the proportion of China's coal-fired power installed capacity has fallen below 50% in 2020, marking a solid step towards its commitment of "carbon neutrality" in 2060.
By end-2020, the nation's thermal power installed capacity totaled 1,245 GW. Excluding over 150 GW of natural gas, biomass and by-product heat, pressure & gas, coal-fired capacity totaled 1,095 GW, accounting for 49.8% of all kinds, according to statistics released by the National Energy Administration (NEA).
This has reached the goal of controlling the scope of coal-fired capacity within 1,100 GW by end-2020, which was set by the "13th Five-Year (2016-20) Plan for Electric Power Development".
With thriving development of renewable energy, China's coal capacity has been scaling back year by year since 2012, from 65.7% in 2012 to 52% in 2019, suggesting China's energy supply system is changing from coal-based to source-diversified.
In 2020, China's hydropower capacity increased 13.23 GW, wind capacity rose 71.67 GW and solar 48.2 GW; the newly-added capacity of wind and solar last year amounted to 120 GW, accounting for 63% of all new installations, the NEA data showed. If including hydro, nuclear, gas and biomass, clean energy takes more than 70% of all newly-added capacity.
To achieve carbon neutrality in 2060, China's energy supply mix need to decline carbon emissions to zero around 2050, in which power supply should completely get rid of fossil during 2040-45, said Zhou Dadi, vice chairman of China Energy Research Association, on January 12.
The view was also echoed by Yuan Jiahai, an industry expert of North China Electric Power University, said in November that China's power department should take the lead of "zero emissions" by 2050 and "negative emissions" by 2060.
According to the 2060 carbon neutrality target, China's coal-fired installed capacity should peak at 1,100-1,300 GW, meaning the space is quite limited for new coal plants, Zhao said.
China has slowed the pace in construction of coal-fired power plants during the 13th Five-Year Plan period, with 150 GW of capacity suspended or delayed and 20 GW of outdated capacity eliminated.
The 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25) is the last window phase for coal power to reach its peak. During the period, China doesn't need to build new coal plants any longer, Yuan said.
In December 2020, the State Grid Energy Institute released the "China Energy and Power Development Outlook 2020". Wang Yaohua, deputy general manager of the institute, noted wind and photovoltaic power generation will become the main body of China's power supply structure.
At present, coal power is still China's main energy source and plays a significant role in stabilizing power supply, especially during peak demand periods in winter and summer.
"In order to achieve the goal of peaking carbon by 2030, coal capacity will further decline. But this does not mean coal power will be eliminated. Carbon peaking can also be achieved through the use of carbon capture technology and tree planting to offset carbon dioxide emissions," said Zeng Ming, professor of School of Economics and Management of North China Electric Power University.
(Writing by Alex Guo Editing by Harry Huo)
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