Electricity in China

by Peter Davies

China has big plans for low-carbon electricity, primarily to reduce air pollution but also with the intent of reducing CO2 emissions and building a true 21st century power grid. Is it going to succeed?

In the late 1970s the Chinese leaders realised that the Cultural Revolution (in which intellectuals were forced to labour on the land among many other things) had been a disaster for the Chinese people. They therefore brought in economic reforms, adopting a more capitalist economic policy while still keeping tight political control, and opening China up to foreign investment. After a slow start this resulted in high economic growth rates. China is now the second biggest economy in the world and the biggest single driver of world economic growth. By 2050 it is expected to overtake the USA as the world’s biggest economy and will need an energy infrastructure to support this.

This economic growth has not been without problems.

Although this is not an article about human rights, do not forget the Chinese government is not directly elected and has absolute power. It can dictate national and regional energy policy and force through infrastructure projects even if they affect a large number of people. For instance, to build the 22.5 GW Three Gorges Dam the government moved 1.3 million people and lengthened our day by 0.06 microseconds with no approval needed!

The People’s Republic of China’s central government usually has the best interests of its citizens in mind unless those conflict with the dominant political role of the communist party. But its planning processes are not as good as they might be, and there are often unforeseen consequences from its policies. Some problems which might have been spotted at the outset in the USA and Europe are fixed in China only after they become obvious.

After failed attempts by previous leaders, when Xi Jinping took over as President and head of the communist party he committed to stamping out government corruption and lavish entertainment spending. After the jailing and punishment of 108,000 government officials in the first nine months of 2013 the message largely sunk home with those not already in prison and still employed by the government. Especially in Beijing, this has had a huge impact on the revenue of hotels, airlines, top-end restaurants and those supplying luxury goods, all of which now have to offer attractive deals to ordinary citizens to stay in business! And Chinese people now have a higher opinion of government officials.

Key driver for change to China’s energy – air pollution

Estimates of how many Chinese die each year from air pollution vary from 250,000 through 350-500,000 and up to 1.6 million.

Visits to the interactive, real-time map of air pollution sensor readings in Beijing and other Chinese cities will convince you of China’s air pollution problem. The single reading from each sensor includes levels of particles (PM2.5 and PM10 with sizes in microns) and nitrous and nitric oxides (NOx). Up to 50 is safe. 101-150 is unsafe for sensitive groups and 300+ is hazardous for all, especially combined with physical activity outdoors. Beijing values often get to a few hundred. (The map zooms to other Chinese cities and works worldwide too.)

Air pollution in Beijing comes from many sources, including coal, vehicle exhausts, pollution carried by the wind from the north a few hundred miles away, and sandstorms from the Gobi desert to the north and north-west of Beijing driven by the wind. Since you can feel and see air pollution , everyone in China knows the problem is very serious. The central government actually let this unofficial video go viral for a while before suppressing it.

The Chinese central government thinks communist party credibility, and maybe long-term survival is at stake, and desperately wants to reduce air pollution. It has also said it will address air pollution for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The planned actions include replacing coal, petrol and diesel with less polluting sources of energy such as nuclear, hydro, wind and solar. The government says these are also necessary to combat climate change, and the two issues are inextricably linked in people’s minds.

Change of focus of the Chinese economy

Slide1The central government is nudging growth away from heavy industry and export and into internal consumption and services. This affects growth rates, energy intensity (energy used per $ of GDP) and future energy plans. As a result growth has slowed from more than the 8% official target 2005 to 2011 to “only” 6.9% in 2015.

Public Chinese climate and energy commitments and plans

In June 2015 China made four promises in its Nationally Determined Contribution to the November 2015 Paris climate conference. The second half of the document is the English translation.

  1. To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early;
  2. To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65% from the 2005 level;
  3. To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and
  4. To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.

1 and 3 were from a summit agreement with the USA in November 2014.

China creates five-year plans for the economy and country. The draft 13th Five Year Plan [and one-page highlights] forecasts growth of 6.5% from 2016 to 2020 and thus a doubling of GDP and Chinese living standards between 2010 and 2020. As the economy slows some Western economists doubt government actions can sustain growth as high as 6.5% though others disagree.

Although there is no full English version yet, the China Daily and other English language newspapers have many articles on the latest plan. Here’s the China Daily version of the long-term 2030 energy projections in the plan.

China has to add new installed capacity of 100 GW nuclear power, 150 GW hydroelectric power, 300 GW [solar] photovoltaic power and 400 GW wind power between 2016 and 2030.

Here’s a catchy little song about the 13th five-year plan in English apart from the Chinese words ”shí sān wǔ” (十三五 in simplified Chinese) or “thirteen five”.

Current and future electricity and energy use

The values in the charts in this section and others with no hyperlinks come from the main references at the bottom of the post. Such official sources have slight inconsistencies, reflecting flaws in the overall process of gathering statistics in China. The central government says that not all official statistics are yet accurate, as not all provinces report accurately.

With the recent slowdown and with energy efficiency savings, the Chinese economy grew at 6.9% last year with only a 1% increase in electricity generation. Thus electricity consumption is beginning to detach from GDP.

Slide1For comparison Europe and the USA are around 3,500 and 4,000 TWh/year.

In the above chart thermal, hydro and nuclear generation values for 2015 are not yet supplied directly in official reports and are the average of 2014 and 2015 year-end capacity multiplied by the 2015 hours of operation. Other historical values are direct from official reports. Treat values with a little caution as figures from different sources don’t quite match.

For the 2020 and 2030 projections, capacity factors assumed are 42% (hydro), 30% (wind), 90% (nuclear) and 15% (solar), which reflect recent years except for wind which is discussed below. The 8,000 TWh total for 2030 is adjusted down by me (hopefully conservatively) from estimates of 8,500 and 9,300 TWh produced before China committed to reduce energy intensity (energy per $ of GDP) by 60-65% by 2030. Thermal for 2030 is the 8,000 TWh total less low-carbon generation. Including even an approximate 2030 generation total is important because it shows that generation from coal is much more likely to reduce than increase by 2030 and that the reduction is very dependent on the planned energy efficiency savings.

The energy to power the Chinese economy currently comes mainly from coal. In 2014 coal was at least 93% of thermal generation while gas was 3%, even though gas was 5% of thermal capacity.

Hydroelectricity is already 20% of the total generation and there are plans to expand it further.

There have been some problems with hydro. The Banquio Dam failure cost 26,000 lives directly and another 145,000 from epidemics and famine, affected 11 million people in total, collapsed 6 million buildings, and destroyed 18GW of hydro power generation. Although the numbers were horrific, the deaths are dwarfed by those from air pollution.

The chart below omits total and thermal generation so the growth of low-carbon generation is clearer.

Slide2At present the generation from nuclear, wind and solar are a fraction of hydro generation. However, China is expanding all forms of low-carbon electricity generation as fast as it can.

In the generation capacity chart below, note that the load (or capacity) factors for different technologies differ widely. Load factor is the ratio of actual electricity generation in a period (in GWh) compared with maximum (“nameplate”) capacity multiplied by the length of the period. Nuclear punches above its weight compared to wind and solar capacity.



Hydro includes pumped storage hydro of 20GW (2014) and 40GW (2015).

Most of China’s wind power is onshore and China missed its 2015 target of 5GW for offshore wind.

Despite a huge increase in the transmission networks in 2015 some 15% of wind power was curtailed (dramatically up from 9% in 2014) because the network could not carry it. Surprisingly, when there is a surplus of power, wind and solar are curtailed in favour of coal generation, because coal is given fixed generation hours. This is economically inefficient, does not help air pollution and is likely to change shortly.

Even so, in 2013 wind generation overtook expanding nuclear generation for the first time, and looks like staying ahead. This was due both to a re-evaluation of nuclear safety following Fukushima and the 6 years for a Chinese nuclear build compared with a few months for wind. After Fukushima China reduced its 2020 target for nuclear capacity from 80 GW to 58 GW installed with 30 GW under construction.

Variable wind power must be backed by despatchable generation such as gas or hydro generation to cover times when the wind is not blowing.   China potentially has the ideal combination of wind backed by the huge hydro capacity. However, the hydro and wind are in different places which are not both connected to the same population centres. A lot of the hydro is over 1000 km from Beijing (e.g. Three Gorges) and the best wind is Gansu (1000km west of Beijing) and Inner Mongolia (closer). The planned long-distance high and ultra-high voltage transmission network upgrades (see below) will solve the problem over the next few years. Further, due to local grid capacity problems, new wind farm starts are temporarily banned in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Jilin, until the local transmission network catches up.

China has no significant commercial CSP (concentrating solar power – solar troughs or heliostats (mirrors) plus solar tower). However it has 1.1 million square km of desert with high levels of sunlight which are very suitable for CSP generation. An 810 MW (when complete) CSP plant with 3 hours of storage is planned in Qinghai in the west with a first phase of 270 MW. When fully completed this will be the largest in the world.

The load factors for the different types of generation are below.

Slide4China has enough coal generation plant but regional state-owned power companies continue to build more! The effect is just to reduce coal generation load factors, as you can see.

The nuclear load factor is high, as might be expected. The hydro load factor is dictated by rainfall which varies a little from year to year. The solar load factor is lower than you might expect from a country with a lot of desert, but this has not been exploited at present. The mainly onshore wind load factor is at least 5-10% lower than it ought to be as discussed above.

Smart transmission grid

The wind is strongest in the North West and Inner Mongolia (north), but the major population centres are in the East and Centre.


To link renewable generation centres with the population centres China is expanding the high voltage DC and AC transmission networks. The map below shows the projected 2018 high voltage DC grid.


Between 2011 and 2015 China installed an additional 200,000 km of high voltage transmission lines, including 40,000 km of ultra-high voltage DC lines, to bring the total high voltage network to 900,000 km. The estimated cost of the new lines was $269bn. In the period 2016 to 2020 the transmission network will expand at a similar rate. By contrast the US grid has 275,000 km of high voltage lines.

By 2018 China will have 60% of the installed worldwide high voltage DC lines by distance in 20% of the worldwide projects. The Chinese grid is bigger and thus more complex than other high voltage grids, but because of the huge investment the Chinese have been able to develop new techniques to make its high voltage DC grid more reliable and stable than elsewhere.

Transmission losses were 7% in 2013 but reduced to 6.6% in 2014 and 2015.

Insulators on Chinese high voltage lines have to be a little longer than normal as the high levels of air pollution make breakdown more likely.

While there have been significant gains in energy efficiency in China, one area of weakness is a lack of focus on demand response in electricity use. Under the control of a smart grid, demand response is the ability to respond to the availability of electricity by reducing or increasing loads for a few hours (e.g. in response to a short gap in wind power). It can apply to loads in industry (e.g. aluminium smelting), commercial (building air conditioning) or homes (washing machine operation, electric vehicle charging).

What is happening to coal in China?

China committed to peaking coal use by 2020 at the latest, at a level no more than 16% higher than in 2013.

In 2015 the Beijing central government handed over environment approval for new generating plants to the provinces. The local state-owned generating companies believe that a new coal station will generate additional revenue for them, even though it reduces the load factor of coal nationally. So they take a short-term, self-interested approach and thus China is still installing more coal generation. So the load factor of coal generation is going down rapidly year on year (see load factors chart above). The central government has wised up to what is going on (as it inevitably would in time) and the 13th Five Year plan will clamp down on new coal generation. There are already bans on new coal plants in the most highly-populated parts of the east, and these will be extended further west.

New coal generation is not necessarily bad where it is more efficient and has better pollution controls than older coal plant which it replaces. However, it has been the case in the past that coal plants fitted with effective pollution controls (exhaust scrubbers) have run with them switched off to reduce costs, even while claiming bonuses for reducing pollution. Needless to say the central government takes a dim view of this when it finds out and has changed the power grid regulations to stamp it out.

Coal generation is being directly replaced by natural gas generation in some areas such as Beijing which used to have four coal-fired stations. Three of these have already closed and the last will close later this year.

In February China announced it was closing 1000 coal mines and would approve no further mines for the next 3 years. This will eliminate surplus capacity and increase the price, reducing financial losses from mining and making it more cost-effective to replace coal with less polluting forms of generation.


With the rebalancing of the Chinese economy and slower growth, the direct use of coal in China’s heavy industry reduced in 2014 and 2015. Coal use probably peaked in 2013 and appears to be on the way down. This could lead to China’s carbon dioxide emissions peaking somewhere between 2020 and 2025.

Fusion power

The ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project to generate excess heat from nuclear fusion will start operation in the 2020’s but is not expected to generate net power until 2030. The next step is a prototype commercial reactor in the 2030s, which may lead to commercial fusion reactors from about 2040 if the economics turn out to be favourable.

Though a member of the ITER project, China is also building the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor which is bigger than ITER and may be completed by 2030. To help solve the problem of providing sufficient electricity to drive economic expansion long-term, China hopes to develop production fusion reactor technology earlier than the ITER timescale. In doing so it will have to spend a lot on design retrofits from ITER findings, but it must believe the extra costs from pressing ahead are worthwhile.

Commercial factors

China is leveraging its huge internal electricity market to increase high technology exports to the rest of the world. In 2015 among world wind turbine manufacturers Goldwind became the second largest after Vestas, though currently the Chinese makers are concentrating on the Chinese internal market which was 46% of world installations last year.

China is also pushing nuclear energy exports, though these are not huge at present. One advantage the Chinese have is that nuclear generation requires a lot of capital, and Chinese banks can readily supply this, recycling Chinese export earnings.

If fusion power can be commercialised China will clearly be in a good position to play a leading role in the industry.

In 2013 China had a huge row with the EU because China has effectively subsidised solar panel companies to export to the EU, which was deemed unfair to EU-based manufacturers. Subsidies included cheap, government-guaranteed loans at very low rates. Currently the EU is reviewing the situation, which may take a year or more. The current negotiated settlement includes a minimum price with quotas, with all other exports from China subject to a hefty import tax.

What about all the trees?

Having spent most of the last century cutting down its forests, China is now determined to stop the encroachment of the Gobi desert in Mongolia and the north, and to sequester carbon dioxide. The Great Green Wall (Three North Shelterbelt project) was started in 1978. China is now growing 66 billion more trees and by 2050 expects to have 100 billion more.

There is criticism of the programme. Trees are planted in areas which are semi-arid, lowering the water table further. And the plantations are generally a single, fast-growing species, which does not promote wildlife as well as natural mixed tree species would. A lot of new trees died, but there is a net gain in the area of Chinese forests and total mass of carbon sequestrated by them.

China has not followed up by insisting that imported timber comes from sustainable sources, relying instead on voluntary controls by importers, which almost certainly have little effect.


China clearly has big plans for low-carbon electricity, primarily to reduce air pollution but also with the intent of reducing CO2 emissions and building a true 21st century power grid. Is it going to succeed?

There’s no doubt the central government has the power to drive through implementation of its five-year plans, and the central planning process will get more thorough with time. Meanwhile provincial governments and state-owned companies will continue to act in their own short-term self-interest, and not the interests of China as a whole, at least until the central government catches on and stops them. The resulting economic inefficiency is going to be a fact of life in China for some time to come.

China is also likely to beat its climate commitments hands down. This is because, although prepared to take decisive actions, the central government is unwilling to commit to properly challenging targets.

But China will still end up with the electricity grid and energy system needed when it becomes the dominant world economic superpower later this century. . And, with high economic growth rates by Western standards, it may not have mattered hugely that it cost China more to get there than it should have. At that point electricity generation will be increasingly dominated by low-carbon generation with either no or low (nuclear) fuel costs

And maybe then the people of China will be able to breathe more easily – literally.

感谢您的关注。(Gǎnxiè nín de guānzhù. Thank you for your attention.)

References [link]

Biosketch: Peter is a mature, part-time PhD student in the condensed matter theory group of Imperial College London, using Schroedinger’s equation to model energy storage in nano-scale capacitors. The purpose is to understand whether such capacitor technology can be applied in areas such as offsetting the effects of large inductive loads (electric motors) on the electric grid. He worked for IBM for over 30 years as an information technology architect with UK customers including banks, Defra (UK government Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs), Shell and Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board. The work involved designing and leading the implementation for customer applications and also identifying and solving computer performance problems. In the 1970s Peter studied science (physics, maths) , electrical science and computer science at Cambridge University. Peter’s interests include energy and climate change. Since China is the long term big player in these areas he is also learning Chinese.

JC note:  As with all guest posts, please keep your comments civil and relevant.

113 responses to “Electricity in China

  1. Nice post. One thing I have not been able to clarify through reading or searches is how much coal China uses for electric energy versus producing steam directly. Both are “energy” uses of coal but I have not found much clarity in discussions as to whether they are including direct production of steam on not, Do you know anything about that? Are my concerns misplaced?

    From rather limited personal experience in cold regions of China it appeared that steam heat was plentiful and most places (even large spacious open structures) were very warm despite frigid outdoor temperatures. Most people are concentrated in huge population centers so piping steam directly to consumers is the cheapest form of heat energy. Electric use was much more limited likely due to much higher costs. Except for a few “flashy places:” it was generally dim at night. Homes do not have clothes dryers or high demand appliances. Visually looking around it looked like I saw the dark coal plumes from the plants that provided for the steam pipes, not as much from what looked to be electric plants.

    I would guess that since the production of steam is a much simpler process, it may be more local and may be harder to get a handle on estimating it’s output or reduction measures.

    • Hello, PE.

      Regarding direct heating in China, you may find the liked report interesting.


    • Hi,


      Around half of China coal use is in generation, and a lot of this uses cogeneration (use of excess low-temperature heat otherwise wasted to heat local buildings), but I don’t have precise figures.

      Heavy industry used to use a lot of coal directly e.g. steel production. The trend has been to move to electric arc furnaces for this which uses less coal, but I’m not clued up on the details.


      In North China they used to distribute free coal direct to households to keep warm because there was a lot of poverty. This contributed hugely to the smog problem and this report estimates life expectancy went down by 5.5 years as a result.

      • Did you factor in China’s announcement last year that they’ve bee underestimating coal use by 17 percent for several years?

        This is a very good post, btw. But I would advise against easy acceptance of statistics from China.

      • http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/04/china-underreporting-coal-consumption-by-up-to-17-data-suggests

        The 17% uplift was indeed a bit of a surprise to everyone. However, although it unhelpfully increases the historic CO2 emissions from China and helps to better explain the horrific air pollution levels it seems to affect recent years equally, so doesn’t appear to affect the peak (hopefully in 2013) in China’s coal consumption.

        I agree that one shouldn’t accept statistics from China too readily. But the first problem is getting hold of them in the first place and then interpreting what you have correctly. There was a clear report in English from the CEC covering electricity in 2014 compared with 2013, and breaking down the major types of generation. I was hoping to find something similar for 2015 compared to 2014, but the CEC declined to publish anything in English around the same date this year and the generation statistics in the 2015+2014 Chinese source spreadsheet were not broken down in the same way.

        Different official sources do tend to have slightly different numbers in them for the same thing, so there’s big danger of misinterpretation. As an example take this report from the ECIU – http://eciu.net/blog/2016/chinas-13th-plan , spotted by me only after Judith published the post above. Some of the ECIU post numbers seem to be out. For instance they say “a continuing expansion of hydropower to a total of 350GW by 2020” whereas it’s pretty certain there was already 320 GW at the end of 2015, and my 2020 figure is 420 GW. They probably have not added in the pumped storage hydro totals which seemed to be missing from some sets of figures. A lot of the documents are in Chinese (and my beginner Chinese includes only around 250 words so far)!

        I did do a crude cross-check against uplifted November 2014 and 2015 year-to-date figures which were in monthly English docs on the CEC site, so am reasonably confident the 2015 numbers at least reflect the Chinese understanding of the numbers (right or wrong). I’ll have to liaise with the ECIU person and ask them for their sources then do a further check.

        But it does look as if misinterpretation of the Chinese numbers is potentially at least as big an issue as whether the reported statistics are right in the first place! At least more donkey work reduces the chance of misinterpretation, whereas if the raw numbers are wrong there’s no obvious way you will ever find out.

    • Thanks guys. Good links. It looks like heating is large and local while electric has a national focus. Combined generation and heat is good where that works, but it seems a lot of steam heat comes from inefficient dirty infrastructure fed by cheap coal (which I wonder how well that is counted as well). I’m sure there is a lot of variation by region with some regions being more exemplary and others more delinquent. In parts of the north east it seemed apparent there was an abundance of dirty cheap coal. With temperatures well below zero, room temperature was regulated by opening windows.

    • Peter, if I recall, only 5% of China’s population is off grid, but the absolute number is about 30 million, most of whom live in small isolated rural villages that are a market for micro grids. Do you have information on the micro grids that have been developed?

  2. Thank you for this very interesting and informative article

  3. It takes the pressure off to know you can always resort to slave labor when needed.

    • Our founding fathers might not agree. If Washington and Jefferson had it do over again, they might prefer to just hire workers who could be dismissed when no longer needed. The problem with having slaves is the owners have to keep feeding and housing them even during periods when they aren’t needed.

      • Is that how the Democrat party really feels?

      • Waggy, the Democratic Party is nice to Blacks. In an attempt to win their votes, the GOP tells Blacks they are stupid for voting Democrat. You don’t convince people of anything by calling them stupid. I know because I’ve tried that with you.

        Sorry, Waggy, but I must budget my replies to you, so I want be commenting on the next thing you say.

      • Coal Miners Lives and Tobacco Farmer’s Lives and Petroleum Workers Lives Matter Too…

  4. Many many thanks for this amazing amount of information.

    Better a well-informed, for objectivity seeking PhD-student than a couple of good old engineers or economists reprocessing ad nauseam what they learned 40 years ago.

  5. China’s fall in CO2 emissions and likely continuing fall in emissions and GDP have a convincing cause:

  6. I sure hope these emissions trends are used to prepare de CMIP6 cases.

  7. From the info above the energy reality in China today (and the best estimate of what it very likely will be tomorrow and beyond), it appears that most of the energy (~80%) required to run the nation comes from coal (93%) and if not coal, gas (5%) with most of the rest of the energy used (20%) being hydroelectric; and energy use is down because manufacturing and construction is down, although the grown in financial and other services resulted in an overall growth in GDP, which was the lowest in a quarter of a century. The political reality is that China is an authoritarian country. “Political leaders are not elected,” reports the CATO Institute. “Human rights activists go to jail. Religious persecution is real.” Free market principles do apply because personal liberty does not exist there.

    • “Free market principles do apply because personal liberty does not exist there”

      True, you don’t need personal liberty to have a free market, at least not personal liberty for everyone. Look at our Old South.

    • You can compare it to US and Europe.

      More data on the way

      • I read the abstract of your link. It starts : “Rapid industrialization and urbanization in developing countries has led to an increase in air pollution, along a similar trajectory to that previously experienced by the developed nations.”.

        There you have it. The developed nations used to have the same problem, but now they don’t. What changed? They started using scrubbers. All the evidence points to the simple fact that scrubbers do very significantly reduce pollution, and that coal burned without scrubbers is the problem. As thomaswfuller2 points out, the coal burned without scrubbers is not necessarily burned in power stations. Your “you are looking at one time slice so dont jump to conclusions” is a straw-clutch and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. That map tells a very clear story, and it’s backed up by the Nature paper you cited.

      • Oops, I must have missed a “Reply” tag. That was meant to be a reply to Steven Mosher | April 7, 2016 at 2:16 am |

    • Thanks. To my mind, that map shows very clearly that coal fired power (with scrubbers turned on) are not a problem, because they are heavily used in areas that have low pollution. China could fix much of its problem by getting cheap reliable coal and gas power to everyone, and policing the use of scrubbers.

      • You cannot conclude that from concentration maps.
        the wind blows.
        So we would typically take wind fields and then reverse engineer the locations of sources.
        Still a work in progress..
        Still some recent work suggests to us that a majority of the Pm25 is
        still caused by coal after scrubbing.

        Pinning down the sources is hard.

      • Doen’t the wind blow near Beijing too?

      • No longer from what I herd, since China lost it’s METADATA, which was real big I understand. AGW scientists will be able to adjust it though.

      • “Doen’t the wind blow near Beijing too?”


        The point is that you cannot look at concentration and INTUIT where
        that pm25 came from. You have to do math.

        remember pm25 just describes the size of a particle, nothing more.
        There are of course natural sources:

        for example


        Like I said. you cannot look at a picture of concentration ( I linked to a snapshot in time ) and CONCLUDE anything about sources from that single time slice.

        There is uncertainty. This is not settled science and I’m puzzled why you conclude that it is.

      • I look at the map you provided. It shows very heavy concentration of pollution in a relatively small area around Beijing. Other parts of the world have as much coal-fired power production as China/Beijing does, yet their pollution is benign. Beijing coal stations do not use scrubbers, the others do. That is a pretty clear indication that coal with scrubbers is not a problem. You say that the wind spreads the pollution so I shouldn’t leap to that conclusion. But if the power plants outside China do have a pollution problem that is concealed by the wind blowing it around, and if Beijing’s non-scrubber pollution is not a greater problem, then the pollution around Beijing should also be concealed by wind blowing it around. It isn’t. It is visible in spades right next to Beijing. So I don’t care how much work you are putting into trying to prove your lopsided hypothesis that scrubbed coal is the problem, you are going to have to work very hard indeed to convince me because the contra evidence is so darned clear.

      • “I look at the map you provided. It shows very heavy concentration of pollution in a relatively small area around Beijing.

        1. the map is real time concentration for that time slice.
        2. To do a proper analysis you have to collect many hours
        and then using the wind field trace back the concentration
        to the source. This also means you have to understand the
        residence time. It’s poorly constrained.

        “Other parts of the world have as much coal-fired power production as China/Beijing does, yet their pollution is benign. Beijing coal stations do not use scrubbers, the others do. That is a pretty clear indication that coal with scrubbers is not a problem. ”
        1. Only partly true. We have ( you have) no reliable data on which stations actually turn their scrubbers on.
        2. Turning them on definately helps, but does not remove the problem
        because even the scrubbed emissions have secondary effects.
        Mostly sulfates.
        3. There are more sources than coal plants for energy as many industries
        use coal for their processes.

        “You say that the wind spreads the pollution so I shouldn’t leap to that conclusion. But if the power plants outside China do have a pollution problem that is concealed by the wind blowing it around, and if Beijing’s non-scrubber pollution is not a greater problem, then the pollution around Beijing should also be concealed by wind blowing it around. It isn’t. It is visible in spades right next to Beijing. So I don’t care how much work you are putting into trying to prove your lopsided hypothesis that scrubbed coal is the problem, you are going to have to work very hard indeed to convince me because the contra evidence is so darned clear.”

        1. you are looking at one time slice. So dont jump to conclusions.
        2. Most of the PM 2.5 pollution in Beijing comes from the large industrial zone to the South West of Beijing. (a large portion of china coal use is
        3. read this: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7521/full/nature13774.html
        4. The main source is secondary inorganic— basically while
        scrubbers help, they still are not perfect ( In China). Basically
        They need additional Nox and S02 control.

      • If you spend any time in Beijing and wander outside the main commercial areas, the first thing you will notice is people driving bicycle carts loaded with conical coal bricks that they sell to households to use for heating. They’re everywhere. Sure, coal plants pollute in Beijing. But half the 10 million people living in and around Beijing burn those coal bricks for heat. That’s why pollution is so much worse in winter there than in summer.

  8. “coal plants fitted with effective pollution controls (exhaust scrubbers) have run with them switched off to reduce costs,”

    Some of the bad behavior (shutting off antipollution equipment) stems from greed, arrogance, and a Governmental blind eye. These pollution policy lapses are more fully noted in the referenced link above.

    What is not so easily seen, is the nation wide economic issue that increasing the cost of electricity, by turning the the exhaust scrubbers back on again, by @ 2 to 3 cents per KwHour. Those generation costs will in turn be passed to the Chinese manufacturers who in turn pass these costs through the products to the global consumers. The result, China’s cheap labor can no long be the single driving force in competing in a global economy, especially with emerging manufacturers like neighboring South Asia. And, as standards of living are rising in China, the expectations of workers for better wages rises as well. China is no longer the “cheapest” global manufacturing source. The Central and regional Governments are well aware of China loosing its “low cost bidder” status.

    Technology may come to the rescue of China’s coal pollution problem, but, it will increase the cost for electricity even more, furthering the gap between China’s manufacturing costs with its global competitors.

    The expectation that China will become the largest economy in the world by 2050 may or may not happen. There are now, and will be in the future, increasing domestic demands on energy. The gap between fulfilling those expectations with the realities of supplying that energy may just be the explosive political issue the Central Government wants to forestall. Its very existence may be at stake.

    It’s hard to predict the future.

  9. Just how ridiculous and unsustainable China’s debt fueled binge has become:


  10. Rod Andrews

    R I am looking forward to meeting a Canadian that has had a trusting relationship with any company or government official in China.


    curryja posted: “by Peter Davies

    China has big plans for low-carbon electricity, primarily to reduce air pollution but also with the intent of reducing CO2 emissions and building a true 21st century power grid. Is it going to succeed?

    In the late 1970s the Chine”

  11. It would be interesting to read from Rud, Planning Engineer, and Peter Lang why so much wind energy has been developed in China.

    • They are overproducing just about everything in China – to keep their citizens working, while jobs here and the economy languish. Obummer is a rudderless President.

    • “China proposes $50+ trillion Global UHV grid connecting all power generation including massive wind farm at the North Pole by 2050”


      • If they already have a 240% Debt to GDP, with a little luck they might be able to weaken the Juan enough to get what they really need next. Remember when we are all on the beach with one of our robot slaves, they will always still need to be recharged. That’s life.

    • Stephen, I think your point is that you see China as having a lot of wind and you find that incongruous with our postings questioning the economics of wind generation.

      Considering the size of China, their exceptional wind potential, their dependence on importing petroleum – I don’t get the feel that there is so much wind generation there that it contradicts anything I’ve ever said about it.

      Secondly you seem to have an assumption that since China has a lot of wind, that is some sort of proof of concept for the technology. Many don’t have such a strong faith in the wisdom of centralized planning, let alone on the other side of the world. Try googling “China wasteful infrastructure.” Also, I’d suggest you read the Rud and my last post “Horses for Courses”.

      Jim2 makes a major point. For the purpose of maintaining employment and economic growth China has pursued many infrastructure projects that are not worthy of emulation for others not similarly situated (I will withhold judgement on whether they make sense for China). My gut instincts are that it is probably better for China to build wind farms than ghost cities, such that I might wonder why they don’t have more wind.

      Stephen – you need to make the case why you think China has a lot of wind, why its successful for them, why you think it might be worthwhile for others to emulate them. Alternatively you could say where you think our observations have been wrong. But it’s unreasonable for you to assign us responsibility for explaining anything as complex as Chinese policy decisions as if they make your case.

      • Looking at the numbers above, it would seem that for now the total capacity of wind and solar together could easily be balanced by dispatching hydro.

        Going into the future, much of that hydro could be supplemented with additional pumped hydro storage. Assuming some other storage technology doesn’t show sudden advances to out-compete it.

        I don’t know where China stands WRT gas vs. coal, although IIRC CCGT is much more dispatchable than coal, and has a different ratio of front-end investment vs. fuel price. One that makes it a good match with intermittents like wind and solar.

        Sure, you’ll have duplicate capacity, but in both cases it’s cheap, while when the sun’s shining, or wind blowing, you save the cost of gas.

      • Planning Engineer — Certainly nothing wrong in saying “I don’t know” (e.g., as to why China has developed so much wind).

        Being from the South, I’m just not all that familiar with Wind — especially in applications throughout the World or Regions.

        But generally, the main area where I’ve disagreed with you and Rudd is in the use of a simple metric of LCOE (or as we in planning say — levelized revenue requirements using modelling software like PROVAL).

        As an example — lets assume that there are applications of off-shore wind and/or solar that are applicable to peaking load (e.g., using ELCC analysis using historical weather data that I often mention).

        In stating wind or solar’s LCOE, what technology do you compare it with?

        In our example on an integrated system planning basis, would the wind/solar project be competing with a simple CT using oil in Japan or China? or a NG CT in the U.S.? or something else?

        My point has and continues to be, you have to do holistic modelling (as our planning engineers do using software like GE MAPS) as value is a function of grid mix.

        The biggest engineering error that I constantly see on the CE Blog is people espousing the use of a micro (stand-alone) approach to evaluate Renewables — as to both economics (e.g., LCOE) and operations (e.g., intermittency). It just doesn’t work that way.

      • Stephen – I agree that large resource additions should be made using detailed simulation models (such as GE MAPS). Full production cost modelling and financial simulations are custom studies fit for particular cases and as such are not well suited for blog (or really policy) discussions. I’m not a big fan of LCOE but will concede it some value as a screening tool when coupled with good judgement, Crude measured may be somewhat informative where deltas are large. What other choice do we have?

        While I agree that GE MAPS does a good job on economics and operations based on provided scenarios, I am skeptical as to how well we can know at high levels of renewable penetration what impact the intermittent operation of renewables will have on operations, economics and reliability. I would not oversell the capabilities of GE MAPS or the like to give us a great handle for fine comparisons. But again, what other choice do we have? Reasonable people have to use the best (but flawed) information they have for the task at hand.

        As to your initial posting and especially if it’s point was to advocate for detailed modeling: I don’t “know” this, but I strongly suspect that China’s decision to build to the current level of wind generation that it now has (as well as planned expansion) is not the result of a detailed model using GE Maps or the like. If your point was to wonder if China did such and that’s why they have a high level of wind, let me state with a high degree of confidence that is most likely not the case.

      • An early post of mine describing the need for detailed models and noting the flaws of LCOE. https://judithcurry.com/2014/12/11/all-megawatts-are-not-equal/

      • Planning Engineer — As I’ve said numerous times, I think you are a “good faith guy” and if we talked shop over a beer I think we would agree on most things.

        You made (I feel) a very important point on how Renewables are discussed here at CE. I would agree with you whether the integrated planning models (at least those that I’m familiar with) could adequately address high penetration levels.

        And this is where I seem to be butting heads with many people here at CE. The overwhelming context of discussions here at CE seems to be high penetration levels. My context is current reality where things like solar penetration in the U.S. is currently about one-half of 1%.

        As to China — I have no idea what the pro and con issues would even be on China’s optimal electricity generation mix.

  12. I think this trend away from fossil fuels is global in scale and most likely accelerating.


  13. Peter Davies, thank you for an interesting essay.

  14. By far the biggest uncertainty in the expression (CO2/energy)*(energy/GDP)*(GDP/yr) is the last term. The regime faces some tricky tradeoffs in trying to rebalance the economy toward domestic consumption, reform the financial sector (make lending productive), and keep economic growth high enough to avoid politically dangerous unemployment.

    Xi’s crackdown on the media and the universities, as well as his use of corruption investigations mostly to attack his political rivals, is most likely a sign of his insecurity about the CCP’s control of the country and his control of the CCP. There is huge capital flight from China; elites are busy getting overseas citizenship for their children and themselves. So even though a transmission and distribution grid is one thing that a system of central planning ought to be pretty good at developing, there are many ways in which this picture could be disrupted that the happy-talk tone of the post does not convey. Many of these downside scenarios, however, might strengthen the author’s argument, in that they would depress China’s GDP growth and hence its CO2 emissions.

  15. Peter Davies, thank you for the informative report on energy in China. I look forward to more posts from you.

  16. Like other countries before, when the political and economic cost-benefit equation requires it, China will clean up their serious pollution problems in due course (CO2 not being one of the pollutants, of course). They can’t change the favourable economics of energy production from fossil fuels, and probably won’t make much effort to try, whatever the guv’ment may say when it is trying to get on down with the kids. Just like us.

    In any case, Africa is still under-developed and waiting to pick up industries that want to move. That will be good news for Africans.

    Put your hands up for carbon dioxide.

    • michael hart, what Africa needs is more hybrid micro grids using renewables. That’s because much of the population is too rural for large conventional grids to be practical. Large population centers already have conventional grids, but some are plagued with reliability problems.

      • max10k, I didn’t actually say anything about grids, just the methods of energy production/use. To a limited extent, that solar shtuff certainly may have a place in remote locations while wealthier people/institutions are paying to install it, and while the the users don’t want to surf the web, watch TV, cook, wash, shave, etc after dark . But people are kind of fussy, you know. Once you give them electricity, they start wanting it all the time.

        Having said that, when the (energy intensive) industries relocate to Africa, then it will become more urbanized. Like others before. Then the rural issue will evaporate. Energy discussions are moot, the real issue remains politics and corruption etc, but Chinese companies/government are already making in-roads. You don’t have to like it, or the methods, but it is happening and will continue.

      • I’m not assuming everyone wants or welcomes industrial development. If they do, then the necessary capital will be attracted. In the meantime, rural residents may or may not want electric power and modern convinces. If they, the technology already exists in the form of hybrid micro grids. Actually, you don’t even need a grid to take advantage of solar powered devices. For example, you can buy a solar device that will charge a laptop computer during the day for use at night.

      • David Springer

        If there is no grid, then let them eat sunshine!

        ~Max in OK channeling Marie Antoinette

      • max10k

        As you know, the first issues in developing countries and their 2 billion people living on <$2/day, is food and clean water.

        To have food, by-and-large one needs to cook it the food, in the harvested form, is inedible. Currently, biofuels are used to cook the (mostly) daily meal with their associated air pollution, fire danger to straw huts, and thermal injuries from sparks that ignite loose clothing. Electric cooking with a hotplate and a tea pot would be used instead of the biofuel if electricity were available.

        In the "3rd world" the sun doesn't always shine especially during the monsoon rains and otherwise cloud covered times during the most critical solar times of 11 AM to 4 PM. Solar heating stoves require @ 3 to 4 continuous operating hours to heat and cook the daily meal. Solar panels don't generate enough electricity to use hotplates or electric tea pots. Solar panel electricity can barely charge a cell phone and laptop computer let alone useful for daily necessities.

        Electricity is also required for pumps as in pumping water from deep wells that are not contaminated by surface water, itself contaminated with sewage. Electricity is required for the sewage disposal systems that are necessary to address fecal-oral self inoculation of pathogens.

        Teenagers in a developing country don't have the time for communicating with their peers by phone and text because they are needed to work the fields and forage for biofuel Battery charging of a cellphone may be superfluous at this juncture in their lives.

        Electricity for cooking and obtaining and purifying water is the first necessity. Only moderately large and expensive systems can address individual and village size electricity needs.


      • I remember a discussion here a while back where it was argued that renewables were more suited for Africa because the metal in transmission lines would be stolen. Reading since the idea that solar might be better due to theft concerns seems shaky at best. Best anecdote was this one – “Hi guys, I’m from south Africa, I work for a WISP here, we run our towers of solar systems, and we tried everything we could, but doesn’t matter what we do they end up stealing the panels, have done alarm systems, pepper spray, cameras, all 3 together, and with the police and a security company on call, they still get away with the panels. we do to much to try and save the panels, come to a point, where I rather them break the panel then to get away with it. they will spend the time and actually cut the glass out of the aluminum frame, the panel was bolted down onto a safe from the inside, so if someone ever finds an UN-stealable panel, let me know”

      • Re RiHoo8 comment, April 7, 11:28 AM

        Yes, but a micro grid gives the same service as a large grid and is less exposed to interruptions from acts of nature or man. But you don’t need any grid at all to take advantage of some solar devices.

        Several solar cookers are on the market. You can order one from Amazon for $99.99. It got good reviews (71% 5-star, 10% 4-star)


        Here’s a 60 W solar charger for lap top computers, which also got good reviews at Amazon.


        A solar powered water purifier designed by MIT can produce 1,000 liters of clean water a day, enough for a village of several hundred people.

        Solar-powered water pumps are available as are wind-powered pumps. The later are nothing new.

      • max10k

        “Works (solar oven) any time of the day, any day of the year, anywhere on earth, as long as the sun is shining and Users of the All Season Solar Cooker can take full advantage of the sun, whenever the sun is available”

        As you see, the caveats are the real stickler. The meal (lentils) may require 3 to 4 hours of continuous cooking. Ahhh…during monsoon or cloudy day between 11 AM to 3 PM, or even partially cloudy, well…get back to me. You only get one opportunity to change people’s way of doing things differently, particularly cooking meals, otherwise, if the cooker fails to deliver, the NGO on the ground pushing the new contraption, looses credibility.

        BTW, have you ever used a solar cooker?

        Grids, whether micro or macro require a supporting infrastructure and a paying clientele. If one spends most of the day gathering biofuel, tending fire or cooking with solar and maximizing the sun’s direct rays, then you don’t have extra time to do some other things that with a little micro credit loan would allow you to do, earning extra income, purchasing a hotplate and then a tea kettle so that the time (as in time is money) you use to spend cooking is now spent doing other things; maybe even eating a few BonBons every once in a while.

    • “(CO2 not being one of the pollutants, of course).”

      China is well aware that CO2 is a pollutant — an unwanted byproduct — and that it changes climate. Their politicians have no need to deny it as many US politicans think they must….

  17. My understanding is that China will be building a substantial amount of gen 3 nuclear. I recall reading something on the order of 120 reactors, their version of AP1000. Don’t know how reliable that source was.
    They also have a gen 4 molten salt experimental test bed/pilot under construction (~5MW), originally scheduled for 2016 operation but now 2017. They also have the worlds second largest natural gas shale resources after the US. CNOC is starting Sichuan basin production. The more extensive northern basins have yet to be developed. No pipeline infrastrucutre, so it will take time. Getting horizontal drilling/fracking technology to CNOC and Sinopec (just have them hire Halliburton) would allow China to go to CCGT and shut down their older nonUSC coal units, as has been happening in the US. (34% of UC coal MW is due for economic retirement [average since 1998 is at 48 years] by 2025. Most likely all replaced by CCGT.)

    • Maybe China has heard about our Oklahoma earthquakes attributable to fracking. Personally, I would prefer clean air even if it meant occasional earthquakes.

      On second thought, nuclear power plants and earthquakes may not be a good combination. Just don’t frack anywhere near a nuke plant.

      • m10k, Oklahoma is proving a very interesting case. More E/w geologic compression than realized, more roughly N/S faults than realized. Easy solutions. 1. No high volume saline wastewater injection wells. OK, more smaller ones will cost a bit more and some of the misplaced old high volume reinjection wells have to be closed. Done. 2. No new wastewater injection wells near the now increasingly mapped but previously unknown N/S (really SW/NE) Oklahoma fault system. The problem will fix itself without shutting down fracking.
        The previous Arkansas fracking silliness over the Reelfoot Rift was addressed in The Arts of Truth. Oklahoma represents new geological knowledge, different circumstances, easily manageable going forward.
        Don’t panic. And CCGT is about 1/3 the CO2/ MWH of coal at a lower LCOE, so you should be rejoicing. Get fracking.

      • Geoff Sherrington

        “Just don’t frack anywhere near a nuke plant”.
        This is the type of meaningless, smart-ass drivel that we have come to expect from you.
        Why not come back when you can contribute meaningfully?

    • Rudd — I know very little about China, but I have seen several articles on water being a major obstacle with fracking (oil and NG) in China: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2014/0904/Fracking-in-China-Just-add-water

      Also — what do you (and others here at CE) think about this natural gas technology project? First I’ve heard of it: http://www.vox.com/2016/4/5/11347962/net-power


  18. China is way ahead of us in learning that an anti-market agenda is counterproductive, even in an authoritarian state where personal freedom, the value of human life and self-actualization are quaint Western notions that have no place in their socialist society.

    • I’ll bite. What’s an “anti-market agenda” ?

      • It’s what Mario Loyola might call an ideologically-motivated abandonment of, “rational market incentives, rational cost-benefit analysis, and a broad-based consensus about the vital importance of efficient markets,” and sacrificing the economy on the altar of politically-correct, liberal Utopian progressivism, in the name of carbon reduction.

      • You assume markets are “rational.” That’s often not the case. Unregulated markets frequently lead to disaster, and they did in the US in 2009-2010 (just the latest example). Negative externalities of fossil fuel markets are another obvious failure — the largest failure of the free market in history, Lord Sterm called ite.

    • Waggy, you think like Mao Zedong. Both you and he are ideological purists, Mao a pure communist and you a free-market purist. Deng Xiaoping, who replaced Mao as China’s leader, said the color of the cat doesn’t matter as long as it catches the mouse. Deng was a pragmatist rather than a purist. I’m with him.

      Maybe you and Mao think the color of the mouse doesn’t matter as long as it’s caught by a cat of the right color. Ha Ha !
      I’ll tell you this, I believe pig-headed ideological purists are what’s wrong with the world today. Think ISIS and Taliban.
      I hope you will change your ways, and stop contributing to the world’s problems.

      Sorry, Waggy, but I won’t reply to anything further you say, because I’m budgeting the dialog with you.

      • Schrödinger’s cat only works as a thought experiment when the box has not been opened. Propping up Marxist ideology by pretending we don’t already know the truth about where it leads is a great example of the Leftist philosophy of Ubeenhad.

  19. Imposition of command-economy solutions to the non-problem of global warming, handed down by official government experts from their ivory towers and enforced by unelected authoritarian bureaucrats, is what the dispiriting hand of socialism is all about. No amount of Leftist propaganda about stopping the seas from rising will turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse!

  20. Geoff Sherrington

    Conceptually, the provision of electricity to a region is amenable to factor analysis with the selection of weightings for each factor identified.
    It is plausible that the discussion on China in this blog so far has reflected the experience of contributors, without covering all of the factors, let alone their weights.
    Background: In the 1970-80s in Australia, my employer discovered and developed the large Ranger Uranium deposits in the Northern Territory. It was inevitable that we studied future global demand for energy sources and we weighted nuclear into the equations. Despite many favourable factors, Australia still has no nuclear power generation, nor even any planned. This arose because we did not put enough weight on the factor described loosely as ‘activism’.
    Expressions like ‘Uranium waste will have to be managed for 250,000 years’ are physically, economically and emotionally indefensible, with a half life of a few milliseconds in mature debate. Yet, these very childish catch phrases have dictated policy in a number of countries. Some claim that this is the voice of the citizen and that democracy is at work when the people are heard. Another view is that these are phrases for useful idiots to chant at the will of their shadowy, wealthy masters intent on screwing the world for their personal gain.
    Now, to China, with the question of whether the factor of ‘activism’ is weighted properly. I do not know. I’ve been to China a few times to discuss energy and mineral resources at reasonably high level, but not so in the past decade in which much has changed. I have an impression that many Chinese are fearful of pollution and many study the daily public numbers on airborne particulates much as we here study the weather reports. There are activist groups in China that try to jolly up these numbers, but I have little idea about the success of their efforts which lamentably include school age indoctrination. (Perhaps others writing here can help.)
    It is possible that the penetration of wind and solar in China is hard to quantify – the figures that our author Peter Davies gives are rather higher than I was conditioned to believe. If we assume that his main numbers for overall energy are roughly correct, we can envisage certain paths and factor weights that have led to the present mix. Some here will try to use these to project future weights and some will extrapolate them to the globe – some might say things like ’The penetration of solar in China indicates a global uptake of X% by year PQRS’ – and worse, they might plan ahead on these projections.
    That would be unwise. Using nuclear again as an example, the course of nuclear in many countries will likely be affected by another nuclear accident of Chernobyl and Fukushima style. Whether this is a valid reaction or not plausibly depends on your personal take on the value of activism. The point is that projections can be perturbed by sudden, unpredictable changes in factor weights.
    Back briefly to Australia, in the 70-80s era my colleagues and I wrote forcefully that Australia needed nuclear power because industries like (typically) aluminium smelting and refining would not be seen in our lifetimes powered by either wind or solar. That is pretty much still the case. One might infer that the Chinese energy mix is affected by such ‘horses for courses’ choices. There will be some deliberate allocations of generating types for specific loads. Penetration might be static once the need is met.
    This note of mine is not meant to denigrate those writing here. It seemed that the scope was a little narrow, too academic. Real life is much harder to analyse.
    My final take here is that the ‘activism’ factor is hardly studied in relation to its importance. I have yet to learn what motivates the controlling activists and I would welcome a number of them opening up about what drives them, not just anti-nuclear as in these examples, but almost everywhere anti-progress.
    I suspect they do not open up because they are aware of their fatuous ideas and fallibility in informed debate.

    • Geoff, if you want to know what motivates anti-nuclear power activists, it may be a belief in Murphy’s Law, and a fear of being harmed or inconvenienced if anything goes wrong with a nuclear power plant. In Japan, where something has gone wrong, local leaders aren’t keen on nuclear power, as a recent survey has shown.

      “About two-thirds of the heads of prefectural, city, ward, town and village governments want Japan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power generation or scrap it altogether.”

      “Many cited concerns about the safety of nuclear power and the disposal of waste.”

      “The survey was sent to every local authority, of which 1,782, or 99.6 percent, responded.”


      • Geoff Sherrington

        The points you mention are well-known consequences of activism gone mad.
        My interest is in the motivation of this activism.
        You can read here, every day, stories about how activism is creating adverse outcomes.
        I wonder why activists persist when it is so bloody obvious that they are acting perversely. Or do you, like they seem, never rise to this level of self-analysis?

  21. China — Air Pollution & International Trade: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/5/1736

    (example of why I dislike a U.S. Carbon Tax)

  22. If we think the past can be hazy, believe me: the future is a blur. Predicting China’s future behavior when it comes to how they will recognize and respond to future energy requirements when their population reaches 1.5 billion in 2030 is a lot like thinking we can predict what the global average temperature will be in 2030. “There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks” (Erwin Schrödinger).

  23. David Wojick

    China’s plans are remarkably like Obama’s EPA and just as unlikely. This is not a coincidence.

    • Don’t underestimate China.

      When thinking about whether China will meet future plans and promises it is useful to understand China’s performance against the 12th five-year plan just ended. Also, it’s important to remember that most things China is promising to the international community they were expecting to do anyway for good internal reasons.

      China’s central government tends to have a policy of under-promising and over-delivering. This is to make themselves look good. If they miss a growth or reduction target in one five-year plan then the a lower growth or reduction target in the next plan.


      A number of the targets in the 2011-2015 five year plan were 80% complete by the end of 2014 (i.e. on track for successful completion by the end of 2015), although a few were also missed (such as the number of flats built for the poor).

      The article above says China got lucky on meeting energy intensity (energy used per $ of GDP) and carbon intensity (CO2 emitted per $ of GDP) because of the reduction in demand for coal. There was some luck – a downturn in steel manufacturing and exports, but the move away from heavy industry and export to a more internal and services-based economy was also part of the plan. And part of the reductions was due to planned focus on energy efficiency to reduce energy intensity and an increase in nuclear and renewable generation to reduce carbon intensity.

      So a reasonable performance against the 12th five-year plan, but they got some areas wrong. We should probably expect a similar level of performance against the 13th five-year plan covering 2016 to 2020.

    • The halt on wind turbine installations is temporary, and only applies to certain areas. In other areas wind farm installations will continue. The most important provinces banned from installing more wind are Gansu and Inner Mongolia, both of which have very good wind resource.

      The problem is that a Chinese wind farm can be installed in a few months, but the transmission line capability to get the power to the east where it is needed takes a few years to plan and install.

      China Wind Power Sector Industry (Investment) Report from CMS (Hong Kong)

      Too much wind power is being generated in these two provinces, because of limited HVDC line capacity to transmit the power to the population centres in the east where it can be used. In Gansu they have tried to find local uses for the surplus wind power, but the local loads just aren’t enough. So a lot of wind power has to be curtailed in these areas. The average wind curtailment in the whole of China in 2015 was 16%, but the chart in the link shows certain provinces were over 20% for the first half of 2015, including Gansu at 31%.

      The central authority stepped in to stop money being spent unnecessarily in the provinces, whom they do not necessarily always trust to do the right thing. The transmission bottlenecks will be resolved in 2017 when the next tranche of HVDC transmission lines comes on board which will allow a further 26GW of wind power to get to the east from these provinces. At that point you would expect wind curtailment in Gansu to drop to single digits and further wind projects to be approved.

      The other regions listed are banned from installing wind because the local networks cannot cope with it. (“Local” in Chinese terms can mean over distances most of us would regard as being “remote”!)

      Texas had a similar problem with wind curtailment in 2011 and 2012 before the transmission capacity caught up. Wind power capacity in Texas is now 60% higher than it was then with no further curtailment problems.

      In the meantime, in China the wind power growth will be closer to the population centres in the east. The wind is not so good, but more recent wind turbine models have a higher hub height and ratio of area swept by the rotor relative to generator capacity, better suited to lower wind speeds.

      The upgrade of wind power transmission capacity includes this mind boggling line now under construction. It is a 1,100 kV UHVDC (ultra-high voltage DC) transmission line, over a distance of 3,300km, with a capacity of 12GW scheduled for completion in 2018. Each of these three parameters is a world first.

      And far from China withdrawing from wind power, there are indications the wind capacity target for 2020 might be raised from 200GW to 250GW while also raising the target for solar power. I’ve not been able to find a second source for these new targets yet but will keep looking.

      There’s no two ways about it – China is serious about getting rid of coal using hydro, wind, nuclear and solar power and is prepared to pay to make it happen.

    • The halt on wind turbine installations is temporary, and only applies to certain areas. In other areas wind farm installations will continue. The most important provinces banned from installing more wind are Gansu and Inner Mongolia, both of which have very good wind resource.

      The problem is that a Chinese wind farm can be installed in a few months, but the transmission line capability to get the power to the east where it is needed takes a few years to plan and install.

      China Wind Power Sector Industry (Investment) Report from CMS (Hong Kong)

      Too much wind power is being generated in these two provinces, because of limited HVDC line capacity to transmit the power to the population centres in the east where it can be used. In Gansu they have tried to find local uses for the surplus wind power, but the local loads just aren’t enough. So a lot of wind power has to be curtailed in these areas. The average wind curtailment in the whole of China in 2015 was 16%, but the chart in the link shows certain provinces were over 20% for the first half of 2015, including Gansu at 31%.

      The central authority stepped in to stop money being spent unnecessarily in the provinces, whom they do not necessarily always trust to do the right thing. The transmission bottlenecks will be resolved in 2017 when the next tranche of HVDC transmission lines comes on board which will allow a further 26GW of wind power to get to the east from these provinces. At that point you would expect wind curtailment in Gansu to drop to single digits and further wind projects to be approved.

      The other regions listed are banned from installing wind because the local networks cannot cope with it. (“Local” in Chinese terms can mean over distances most of us would regard as being “remote”!)

      In the meantime, in China the wind power growth will be closer to the population centres in the east. The wind is not so good, but more recent wind turbine models have a higher hub height and ratio of area swept by the rotor relative to generator capacity, better suited to lower wind speeds.

      The upgrade of wind power transmission capacity includes this mind boggling line now under construction. It is a 1,100 kV UHVDC (ultra-high voltage DC) transmission line, over a distance of 3,300km, with a capacity of 12GW scheduled for completion in 2018. Each of these three parameters is a world first.

      And far from China withdrawing from wind power, there are indications the wind capacity target for 2020 might be raised from 200GW to 250GW while also raising the target for solar power. I’ve not been able to find a second source for these new targets yet but will keep looking.

      There’s no two ways about it – China is serious about getting rid of coal using hydro, wind, nuclear and solar power and is prepared to pay to make it happen.

  24. From China’s international trade and air pollution in the United States, Jintai Lin, et al:

    That’s an impressive swath of black carbon extending across the Pacific. And to that can be added black carbon and sulfates from diesel container ships plying the shipping lanes along the Asian east coast, across the north Pacific, and along the North American west coast.

    How does this pollution affect north Pacific SST and NA west coast weather?

    • The air pollution charts you show are from 2006, and it would be very interesting to see what they would look like for 2015.

      Clearly China’s contribution to Pacific air pollution will reduce as it moves away from coal. China has also implemented rules on air pollution since 2006, and is putting in place processes previously lacking to make sure the technology fitted to plants using coal is actually switched on. However, there has also been huge industrial growth since 2006.

      The article points out that a significant fraction of the pollution emitted by China results from making goods for export. To some extent this reduces air pollution in countries importing those goods from China.

      I know little about pollution from container ships plying that route so cannot comment.

      • Thanks for the reply, Peter.

        Yes, it would interesting to have a recent pollution chart. Since coal consumption was 25-33% higher in 2015 than 2006, could additional controls possibly have resulted in a net reduction of black carbon?

        The overall effect of black carbon over oceans is uncertain. If research showing black carbon from Africa (2nd largest source after East Asia) intensifies cyclone strength in the Arabian Sea is correct, then the same should be happening in the western Pacific. But effects of black carbon are dependent on both altitude and the presence of other substances and should change as the plume moves eastward. Since the lifespan of BC in the atmosphere is only a few days, it seems conceivable that reduction of particulate pollution from China and shipping could have a more noticable effect on North American west coast weather than reduction of CO2 emissions. There should be more research in this area.

        Another paper on the subject: Long-range transport of black carbon to the Pacific Ocean and its dependence on aging timescale by Zhang, et al.

  25. Robin Guenier

    Peter: thank you for this interesting and informative article. But there’s something I don’t understand. You say:

    China has big plans for low-carbon electricity, primarily to reduce air pollution but also with the intent of reducing CO2 emissions …

    But does it really have that intent? Although I’ve no doubt that China’s politburo sees the reduction of urban air pollution as a major priority (because of the threat of social upheaval if the problem is not urgently addressed), the available evidence suggests that, although it pays lip service to the need to combat climate change, it’s not particularly concerned about it.

    After all, China is responsible for about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the US and EU combined. If it really believed emissions were a serious threat, it – more than any country – would surely be joining Western economies in taking urgent action to reduce them? But it isn’t. Instead China, despite years of pressure for change from the US and EU, insists that it continue to be categorised as a “developing” country – a category that, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, allows it to give overriding priority to economic development and poverty alleviation. Moreover, under the text in Paris in December, whereas developed countries are expected to “continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”, developing countries are merely “encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emissions reduction or limitation targets …”.

    Then consider its “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (and the text of the November 2014 US/China agreement). First the four items you listed were not, as you have it, “promises” – they are “intended”. In any case, take the first: there’s no indication of the level at which emissions would ‘peak’ or what might happen thereafter – a ‘peak’ is not a cut or a reduction. What it means is that we should expect China’s emissions to continue to grow for perhaps another 14 years – and then possibly continue at the new high level for some time thereafter.

    Then there’s China’s continued infrastructure development – including for example plans for coal gasification projects and for new airports and rail developments. And, re transport, China’s experiencing a continuing increase in the number of motor vehicles on its expanding road system. All of this must contribute to emissions growth. Moreover China’s support for new coal-fired energy projects around the world hardly indicates serious concern about CO2 emissions.

    Perhaps China’s lack of genuine concern about CO2 reduction should not be a surprise: it seems that scientific opinion in China may not share the Western view that mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming. For example, Ding Zhongli, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (described as “the final word on climate science for the Chinese Communist Party”), has observed that a significant relationship between temperature and CO2 “lacks reliable evidence in science”. LINK: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jan/14/china-imprints-all-over-copenhagen-talks-fiasco/?page=all

    • Robin,

      It’s taking a while to research and address all the points you raised so I’ll post two responses now (to get around restrictions on number of links) to cover only half of them with more to come in a third post.

      China’s central government tends to under-promise and over-deliver, perhaps because they are uncertain how quickly they can change the direction of such a massive country. So it is best to look at China’s actions and achievements, rather than rely entirely on what they say.

      Why does China insist on being in the “developing nations” category?

      China’s electricity and primary energy use will be higher in the future. It would be very difficult for China to start reducing emissions immediately and know in advance they will succeed, so perhaps it is understandable they don’t yet want to be pinned down as a developed nation would be. As you say, the phrase in the Paris agreement for developed nations is “continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. And as you point out, China’s INDC does not specify any absolute target for the peak or for subsequent reductions.

      Outside its INDC and before the Paris talks China promised to peak coal use by 2020 at a level no more than 16% above the 2014 level, which is a pretty specific target. Although this target and its INDC are not legally binding, neither are any of the country INDCs. This is mainly because the US administration insisted INDCs should be voluntary so the Paris treaty needed no Senate ratification. No-one expected the current Republican Senate would ratify any climate treaty which needed its approval. This is not exactly China’s fault!

      As a developing nation China is not obliged, and has not agreed to contribute to the normal Green Climate Fund, but has independently committed $5.1bn dollars to climate change and development activities in poor Southern hemisphere countries. This is more than the USA has agreed to contribute to the Green Climate Fund and is half as much again as the current fund $10.2bn total. My guess is that China thinks it can achieve greater foreign influence by operating outside the UN fund. Some European countries are also operating outside the fund.

      When will China peak greenhouse missions?

      No-one knows for sure, including China, but it looks like China peaked coal use in 2013. If true, China’s CO2 emission will peak well before 2030. There has been a research paper saying China may plausibly have peaked carbon dioxide emissions in 2014 and if not the peak will be before 2025, followed by a slow decline. No-one knows for sure, but the paper argues that previous predictions of a peak in 2030 ignored policy and structural shifts in China’s economy, and therefore are unlikely to be right.

      • Is China serious about reducing greenhouse emissions

        One measure of seriousness is China’s growth of low-carbon generation compared with other countries. On this measure China comes out pretty well.


        China spent $111bn on renewable energy in 2015 – approaching the combined total of Europe and the USA together.


        China has 20 reactors under construction out of 60 worldwide, 1/3rd of the global total.


        It is also developing hydro capacity faster than anyone else. Wikipedia shows China had 40% of the worldwide hydro capacity under development, though the article is a little out of date. But new hydro development often comes with environmental impacts.

        As the largest global CO2 emitter maybe it is fair to expect China to ramp up its actions to reduce emissions even further. However, on these numbers China is installing considerably more of all major types of low-carbon generation than anyone else in the world, which can only be described as taking serious action to address CO2 emissions.

        My take on it is that the Chinese central government is very serious about reducing CO2 emissions and has made a good start. China is a big country with large and powerful regional governments and it takes time to get everyone moving in the right direction to accelerate reductions.

        It also looks like China’s insistence of staying on the UNFCCC’s developing nations list has not stopped it from doing more than any of the developed nations, so maybe it is not that relevant.

        I’ll respond to your other points in a few days.

      • Robin Guenier

        Thanks Peter: I was beginning to think you were ignoring me – quite unfairly as it turns out!

        I’ll reply when I’ve seen your third response.

    • Robin,

      Here are the last two parts of the response to your interesting comment.

      Infrastructure and Transport development

      Coal gasification presumably will come under the Chinese plan (not part of the INDC) to peak coal use in 2020 at a level no more 16% above that for 2014, described in the top post.

      China has 19,000 km of electrified high-speed (200-380 km/hr) rail links – more than the rest of the world put together, with plans for a total of 30,000 km. This includes the world’s first Maglev in Shanghai. This will take the majority of long-distance passenger travel in China. High-speed rail is more efficient than electric cars by a factor of 2 or 3 and both use electricity with the same mix of generation. It also uses less energy directly than petrol cars and planes, but the electricity still has to be generated. Since current generation is mostly from coal, my take on it is the same as yours – that high-speed rail may not reduce carbon emissions right now compared with using petrol cars or planes for long-distance travel. Further, the large city station complexes and railway infrastructure itself take a lot of energy to build. So increased long-distance travel may increase emissions somewhat.

      However, there are a couple of other factors. Firstly carbon emissions from power generation will reduce in the future as more gas, wind, nuclear and solar generation is installed in China, and this will directly reduce the emissions associated with both high-speed rail and electric cars.

      Secondly, it is far easier to minimise pollution from a small number of large coal-fired generating stations than from a fleet of hundreds of millions of petrol or diesel cars, or from thousands of planes. This assumes you are trying hard to reduce coal generation pollution, and one issue has been that power companies have sometimes switched off installed exhaust scrubbers. Hopefully the central government has got this particular issue cracked now. Reducing air pollution is a top priority for China.

      The increase in motor vehicles is also likely to increase emissions. China had 154 million cars (for 1.3bn people) at the end of 2014. It also had 200 million e-bikes, regarded as a mixed blessing.

      China is trying hard to promote electric vehicles. The advantages include reducing foreign oil imports and urban pollution and developing another hi-tech industry.

      Electric cars may soon take off globally and in China. General Motors has recently let slip a contract price of $143/kWh for batteries for the new Bolt electric car, below the threshold of $150/kWh which analysts expect will make electric cars directly competitive with petrol and diesel vehicles. Around 300,000 electric cars were sold in 2015 in China making it the biggest market in the world. Most were low-speed (less than 70 km/h) which are not regulated by the government though this may change soon.

      The provincial governments must also work to speed the transition to electric cars. Currently electric cars are subsidised but this will be phased out by 2021. Most urban Chinese live in apartment blocks with no easy way to charge at home, and there is no long-distance high-power charging network. When pollution is bad in a city, cars with different number plates are banned on different days, but electric cars are never affected.

      One advantage of electric cars (but not trains), is that they include battery storage. Since most cars are used very little (compared with computers or offices), they can usually be charged at times when weather dependent wind or solar energy is available which reduces the need for backup for these generating resources.

      • China and Chinese scientist attitude to climate change

        As you say, China was not co-operative in the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 and in 2010 at least some of China’s scientists did not publicly support action against climate change.

        So has anything changed in 2016?

        One significant change has been the Chinese leadership. In 2012 the fifth generation of leaders took over and Xi Jinping became president and general secretary of the communist party, leading a new Politburo standing committee. In 2013 the new government changed the composition of the National Leading Group for Climate Change, which the prime minister Li Keqiang now chairs, and insisted all provinces set up similar groups led by the provincial governors.

        Then last year a Chinese government assessment of how global warming affects China was published. According to the New York Times report linked the conclusions are very different from those of Ding Zhongli in 2010. As the government actively censors information, the publication of such a report must mean the government agrees with the contents and wishes it to be published, particularly since it is in the government’s name if the NY Times article is correct.

        The fact that senior politicians now lead both the central climate action group and the new provincial group, and the publication of an official 2015 government climate action report strongly suggests that what happened in 2009 and 2010 is no longer a good pointer to the Chinese attitude to climate.

        I would be very interested in your response to these points, but it may take a while for me to respond again.

      • Robin Guenier

        Thank you Peter – a great deal of valuable comment and information. I cannot respond immediately, but hope to be able to do so within a few days.

        I don’t suppose many (if any) of Judith’s denizens are reading this exchange. But it’s a most interesting – and I think important – topic and therefore worth pursuing.

      • Robin Guenier

        Peter: I have at last been able to return to this important subject – apologies for the long delay.

        My point – my only point – is this: although the actions the Chinese government is taking to reduce urban atmospheric pollution (a major priority) will, as a side-effect, result in the reduction of CO2 emissions, that reduction is not in itself China’s intention – CO2 is not a factor in urban pollution. Nonetheless, the government is quite happy to give a different impression in its international public relations activities (see below).

        In support of that view, I’ll deal first with direct evidence and then with indirect evidence.

        Direct evidence

        Official scientific opinion in China appears not to share the Western view that mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of recent (undoubted and potentially deleterious) global warming. As well as the Ding Zhongli observation to which I have already referred, there’s a wealth of evidence supporting this. Two examples: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7067505/China-has-open-mind-about-cause-of-climate-change.html And http://climategate.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/fangetal.pdf

        Arguably the most compelling evidence however is found on the Chinese Academy of Sciences website: http://english.cas.cn. A search under “anthropogenic global warming” identifies (third hit) an item entitled, “High Correlations between Solar Activity and the Earth’s Averaged Surface Temperature …” published in June 2014 (after the changes in Chinese leadership and in the composition of the “National Leading Group for Climate Change”). Here’s an extract from the CAS’s comments on this paper:

        “… debate on the causes of the global warming never stops. Research shows that the current warming does not exceed the natural fluctuations of climate. The climate models of IPCC seem to underestimate the impact of natural factors on the climate change, while overstate that of human activities. Solar activity is an important ingredient of natural driving forces of climate … As pointed out by a peer reviewer, “this work provides a possible explanation for the global warming”.”

        That’s not an observation remotely likely to be published by any leading science academy in the West.

        You referred me to a NYT report on a scientific assessment of how global warming is likely to affect China. You suggested that its conclusions are very different from those of Ding Zhongli in 2010 – and presumably you would include the CAS in 2014.

        I disagree. Although a government publication, it is not (see the linked NYT report) “a summation of established government policy …”. Moreover it appears to be specifically about the environmental and economic risks associated with a changing climate. But Ding Zhongli and the CAS do not deny that temperatures are rising and the climate changing or indeed that mankind has probably contributed to this. However, as I have shown, they are dubious about claims that mankind’s activities are the principal contributor. The paper to which the NYT refers (unfortunately the full report is in Chinese) appears not to address that key issue. I wholly agree that the Chinese government will have sanctioned the publication of this report and it may well be significant that it was published just before the Paris conference: I suspect it may well have been part of China’s sustained effort to put pressure on the developed economies to radically cut their GHG emissions – an outcome very much to China’s advantage. In this context, it’s interesting that the report “urges Beijing to be more flexible in negotiations … [and] adjust to new demands” – a recommendation that China’s negotiators totally ignored in Paris

        Indirect evidence

        I’ve little to add to my previous comment: as I said, as by far the leading emitter of GHGs, China would surely be joining the West in taking urgent action on reduction if it truly believed that increased anthropogenic emissions were a major threat to the future of mankind. But it isn’t. On the contrary, in its public statements and throughout the negotiations between the Lima conference in 2014 and Paris in 2015, China was adamant that it would accept neither legal nor moral obligation to reduce its emissions – a position that prevailed at Paris. Then, as I said, there’s its continued infrastructure development and its support for coal-fired energy projects around the world. None of this indicates serious concern about CO2 emissions.

      • Robin Guenier

        Further to my notes above, here’s some more indirect evidence: for what I’m sure they see as good military and economic reasons, China is building several new islands in the South China Sea: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea.html?_r=0.

        But these islands are only slightly above sea level. So, if China really thought that because of AGW they were likely to be swamped by sea level rise within the foreseeable future, they would hardly be spending billions on these developments.

  26. Robin Guenier

    Apologies – the italics should have ended after my 4th paragraph.