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Hot Topic: China surpasses US as world leader in RES generation, could it also become the new leader in climate change efforts?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#China #IRENA #US #EU #RES #Wind #Solar

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After President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the EU and China announced their plans to increase their collaboration on measures combating climate change (see Hot Topic of 02 June 2017: ‘US President Trump withdraws from Paris Agreement: An opportunity for the rest of the world?‘). Furthermore, several US States started to approach the EU and China to obtain their support in the States’ efforts to upkeep the commitments made under the Agreement. Some of them, like California, have already signed bilateral climate deals with China.

More recently, to accelerate the global energy transition, the world’s largest utility – the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) – and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) announced that they will increase their cooperation through a number of worldwide and regional initiatives, such as the Paris Agreement and the Belt and Road initiative – an ambitious development campaign through which China wants to boost trade and stimulate economic growth across Asia and beyond by building massive amounts of infrastructure connecting it to countries around the globe.

Furthermore, data from the British giant, BP, shows that China surpassed the US in non-hydro RES generation output. China is currently home to some of the biggest wind and solar RES manufacturers an,d with an increased push from its citizens to deal with the severe smog in the big cities, it seems that “the country of the red dragon” would continue to expand its RES capabilities and influence.

Cooperation agreement between IRENA and SGCC

A climate cooperation agreement was signed by IRENA’s Director-General, Adnan Z. Amin, and SGCC’s Chairman, Shu Yinbiao, on the side-line of the eighth Clean Energy Ministerial Meeting in Beijing, China. According to IRENA, “the agreement includes opportunities for collaboration on activities related to integrating high shares of wind and solar, grid integration, interconnection and smart grids”.

Furthermore, the agreed framework also includes opportunities for technical cooperation under IRENA’s Clean Energy Corridor initiatives and capacity building activities, which would facilitate the integration of RES in energy systems in developing countries around the world.

According to SGCC’s Chairman, “based on the consensus of advancing the energy transition towards a low-carbon and green energy future, State Grid will implement extensive win-win cooperation with IRENA in terms of power grid technology, equipment and international standards”.

China – the new RES generation world leader

Meanwhile, statistics show that China overtook the US as the world’s largest generator of non-hydro RES power in 2016, while Europe’s output remained constant due to unsuitable weather conditions. Specifically, China generated 86,1 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) from RES, barely outshining the US output of 83,3 Mtoe, with Germany coming in at number three with 37,9 Mtoe. In total, China produced 20,5% of the world’s non-hydro RES, which, according to BP, includes wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and waste-to-energy projects; the US was close behind, producing 20%.

Although global generation from RES was 52,9 Mtoe more than the previous year – the largest one-year incremental gain in history – RES still accounted for just 4% of global primary energy usage last year. Europe was lagging behind, despite the addition of nearly 20 GW of new wind and PV capacity, with a mere 1,5% increase for 2016. In contrast, generation rose 17% in the US and 33% in China.

An interesting point to note is that BP predicts onshore wind will remain cheaper than utility-scale solar in big markets like the US and China through 2035, citing “considerable scope” to continue reducing wind-turbine prices. Additionally, it will be important to monitor the year-to-year growth of RES as prices decline for wind and PV, the two technologies that contribute the most to the world’s RES generation.

These developments show not only China’s climate diplomacy ambitions, but also its vast RES capabilities, which are poised for an increase with the amount of high capacity projects in the pipeline and the falling prices of green technologies worldwide.


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