China’s plan to electrify the economy

(Eco Business, 11 Sep 2019) Using electricity for everything will help lay the groundwork for lowering carbon emissions, but it won’t be easy.

As the world belatedly sets about reducing carbon emissions, the struggle between coal power and renewables for the future of China’s electricity system has garnered a lot of attention. But if China is to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and also reduce them significantly by mid-century, it must get other areas of the economy to stop burning fossil fuels. One way China is doing this is by promoting the use of electricity instead.

Electrification is hard and takes time. Amongst other things, the government must work with industry to replace inefficient coal boilers, get into millions of people’s homes to replace coal heating, and put in place policies to get companies to develop electric vehicles and consumers to buy them.

Doing these things now would make those parts of the economy effectively low carbon as the power grid gets cleaner.

China’s target for electrification

As part of its 13th Five Year Plan, China set itself a clear target for electrification. The government wants to increase electricity use in final energy consumption from 25.8 per cent in 2016 to 27 per cent in 2020. The government worked this out at about 450 terawatt hours over the five years (equivalent to the electrical output from the Three Gorges Dam in that period).

Annual data from 2016 onwards and estimated figures for 2019 and 2020, suggest China will hit its electrification target in early 2020. As of 2018, it had implemented about 110,000 projects that reduced small-scale coal-burning by 600 million tonnes. The main gains were seen in electrification of industrial processes and agricultural production.

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Eco Business, 11 Sep 2019: China’s plan to electrify the economy