China dominates global wind and solar energy construction

By Editor


China has 180 GW of utility-scale solar and 159 GW of wind power under construction, reinforcing its position as the global leader in renewable energy development, Reuters news report said.

China is constructing 339 GW of wind and solar projects, representing 64 percent of the global total. This figure surpasses the United States, which is in second place with a mere 40 GW in the project pipeline. This expansion has significantly reduced coal’s share in electricity generation to unprecedented levels. The report did not reveal investment in solar and wind power projects in China.

This combined capacity of 339 GW surpasses the rest of the world combined, sufficient to power the entirety of South Korea, according to Global Energy Monitor (GEM). This construction accounts for one-third of all proposed wind and solar capacity in China, compared to a global construction rate of just 7 percent, Aiqun Yu, Sophie Lu, Kasandra O’Malia, and Shradhey Prasad, analysts at GEM, said.

Significant Growth in 2023

In the past year, China has made unprecedented strides in renewable energy. China has added nearly double the amount of utility-scale solar and wind power capacity in 2023 than in any other previous year. By the first quarter of 2024, China’s total utility-scale solar and wind capacity reached 758 GW.

Including distributed solar, the total capacity stands at 1,120 GW, according to the China Electricity Council. Wind and solar now comprise 37 percent of China’s total power capacity, up from 29 percent in 2022, and are expected to surpass coal’s current 39 percent share in 2024.

Forecast on solar and wind in construction in China

China’s solar capacity, which first surpassed wind in 2022, saw extraordinary growth in 2023, driven by the expansion of distributed solar. Half of the distributed solar added in 2023 was installed on residential rooftops, propelled by China’s “whole county solar” model. Distributed solar now accounts for 41 percent of total solar capacity, with lower investment costs, easy installation, and strong policy support contributing to its popularity.

Wind installations also doubled in China in 2023, bouncing back after a slowdown in 2022 due to the end of central government feed-in tariff subsidies. GEM recorded a 51 GW increase in wind capacity since 2023, a growth that exceeds the total operating capacity of any country except the United States.

Future Prospects

China’s prospective capacity under development is substantial, with 387 GW of utility-scale solar power and 336 GW of wind at pre-construction and announced stages. This includes the second and third waves of “mega wind & solar bases,” with a combined capacity of approximately 503 GW, expected to come online between 2025 and 2030. The first wave, announced in 2021, saw 97 GW begin operation in 2023, highlighting the potential for future waves.

On the provincial level, northwest and north provinces lead in large-scale solar and wind installations, while central and southern provinces are experiencing rapid growth in distributed solar. Jiangsu, Henan, Zhejiang, and Anhui have risen into the top six for solar capacity. Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, and Gansu dominate wind installations, accounting for 43 percent of the national total. Offshore wind is also advancing, with Jiangsu and Guangdong leading and Fujian operating the world’s largest capacity single wind turbines at the Pingtan offshore wind farm.

Long-term Outlook

If all proposed utility-scale projects come online as planned, China could achieve 1,200 GW of installed wind and solar capacity by the end of 2024, six years ahead of President Xi Jinping’s target. This would be one year faster than GEM’s forecast from last year. Despite not signing the tripling renewables commitment at COP28, China is on track to meet the Sunnylands Statement goal with the U.S. government to triple renewables by 2030 from a 2020 baseline.

A May 2024 study by Lauri Myllyvirta suggests that China’s overall CO2 emissions may have peaked in 2023, thanks to wind and solar meeting 90 percent of power demand increases and a decline in housing construction activity. However, China’s energy officials have stated no intention to peak emissions before 2030, arguing that delaying the power sector’s peak would aid other sectors’ electrification and avoid premature sunk costs in coal power.

Challenges Ahead

Despite the progress, integrating the massive renewable capacity into China’s coal-centered grid remains challenging. Coal power is still used to mitigate renewables’ intermittency, with 30 percent of the second wave of mega wind and solar bases’ proposed capacity coming from coal power. Transmission bottlenecks also pose issues, with the need for more Ultra High Voltage (UHV) transmission lines to deliver power from the north and northwest to central and southeast China.

Curtailment rates have resurfaced, exceeding 5 percent nationwide in March 2024, with seven provinces exceeding 10 percent in February 2024. Distributed solar in eastern China faces grid and distribution network limitations, potentially constraining future installations if not addressed promptly.

In summary, 2023 marked a historic year for China’s renewable energy growth, ensuring the country’s continued leadership in global wind and solar installations. However, China must overcome grid integration challenges to fully realize the potential of its renewable energy buildup and achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

A separate analysis by Carbon Brief highlights the impact of this renewable boom on China’s energy mix. In May, coal accounted for a record low of 53 percent of the country’s electricity generation, while non-fossil fuel sources hit a record high of 44 percent. This shift indicates that China’s carbon emissions may have peaked last year if the current trend continues, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

The detailed breakdown of China’s renewable energy generation in May shows solar power at 12 percent, wind power at 11 percent, hydropower at 15 percent, nuclear energy at 5 percent, and biomass at 2 percent. This increase in renewable energy led to a 3.6 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, which constitutes about 40 percent of China’s overall emissions.

Baburajan Kizhakedath

Latest News