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China roars ahead with renewables

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has just released some remarkable data on the addition of new electric generating capacity in 2013. China’s electric power system has been growing at a tremendous…

Despite being the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, China is increasing its renewable sources of energy. AAP/HOW HWEE YOUNG

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has just released some remarkable data on the addition of new electric generating capacity in 2013. China’s electric power system has been growing at a tremendous rate to keep up with the country’s breakneck expansion of its manufacturing industry over the past decade.

China’s growing renewables

Between 2010 and 2011 China’s power system passed the 1 million kilowatt mark (kW), making it comparable in size to the US. In the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 the system was growing at around 10% a year, by amounts varying between 83 million kW and 94 million kW each year.

But in 2013 so far (the first 10 months, Jan to Oct), the National Energy Administration revealed that capacity additions have slumped. They total just 63 million kW so far, and might amount to perhaps 88 million kW for the year. The total power system in China appears to be levelling out.

The remarkable feature is that the share of renewables has leapt in significance. Whereas non-fossil fuel capacity additions totalled 31 million kW in 2012, these renewable and nuclear power stations have totalled 36 million kW so far this year – and could be projected to be 43 or 44 million kW for the whole year. That’s one new non-fossil power station of 1 million kW nearly every week!

But the even more astounding feature is that the additions powered by renewables now exceed those powered by fossil fuels (coal and gas) and nuclear. Capacity additions involving hydro, wind and solar PV have totalled 33.8 million kW so far this year, while capacity powered by fossil fuels amounts to 27.0 million kW and by nuclear is just 2.2 million kW – or 29.2 million kW for fossil fuels plus nuclear. The renewables plus nuclear in 2013 make up 57% of new capacity additions, while those powered by fossil fuels alone are down to 43%.

This is one small blip on the statistical chart. But it is one giant leap for China. It means that the growth of its electric power system – that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country – is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels. Wind and solar are growing at a great rate, while nuclear is barely moving. We summarise this data in the chart below.

Authors, based on NEA data

Authors, based on NEA data

Authors, based on NEA data

China’s 12th five year plan

It is a further remarkable coincidence that in the same week as the energy administration figures were released, China Railway revealed the building of the country’s high-speed rail network passed the 10,000 km mark – by far the largest in the world. China’s high-speed rail is massively more efficient as an inter-city transport system than private automobiles and air. The country is also greening its electric power systems and consequently saving huge quantities of carbon emissions.

These results for 2013 reveal just how strongly China is swinging behind renewables as its primary energy resource. This is consistent with the 12th Five Year Plan (running from 2011 to 2015) which projects that China will be generating 30% of its electric power from non-fossil sources overall by 2015. This is a level far higher than comparable industrialized countries.

And it is consistent with the allocation of capital to strategic industries including those producing cleantech goods, which are anticipated to be growing at 15% per year by 2013 – or at twice the rate of the country’s GDP growth overall.

In other words, renewable energy and cleantech industries are seen by the country’s leaders as becoming a pillar of the industrial economy – along with the steel and automotive industries.

It’s just that it is happening even faster than China anticipated.

China’s 12th five year plan is committed to increasing non-fossil fuel sources of energy. Flickr/Land Rover Our Planet

A lesson to be learnt from China

What a contrast with the situation in Australia. Here we find the new government using their “mandate” to abolish the carbon tax as an excuse to jettison any progress that has been hard won in Australia in renewables and cleantech industries.

A bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) – Australia’s Green Bank and fabulously successful in driving the financing of new cleantech ventures, was passed in the House of Representatives with Coalition support, but rejected in the Senate. This probably gives the CEFC a reprieve of six months until there is a new Senate in place on July 1 next year – but the tide might have turned by then and the government might be less anxious to do away with an obviously successful CEFC.

Ministers in the new government take every opportunity to deride the renewables and cleantech sector, even though it is one of the few sectors to show any growth in Australia. By contrast they take every opportunity to promote coal and gas extraction – as if that could possibly be where our future lies. A new report from Oxford University underlines the fact China’s demand for coal is dropping, and Australian coal infrastructure could become “stranded assets”. Australia should be looking to build new manufacturing industries in cleantech and renewable industries – for our own benefit, and to take over some of the jobs lost as the vehicle industry shrinks.

China shows that smart countries build their energy security on strong foundations of manufactured systems – wind turbines, solar PV cells, and solar thermal arrays – rather than on mining and extraction of ores. Manufacturing industries will underpin the urbanized world of tomorrow, and the firms that contribute to them will reap increasing returns. Firms contributing to mining and extraction of resources will inevitably be forced to accept diminishing returns as the resources get harder to access.

The fossil fuels sector is promoting “alternative” fuels like coal seam gas and tar sands oil as the next bonanza. In the US this has reached a crescendo, with big fossil fuel companies (and Australia’s BHP Billiton) falling over themselves to become part of the new oil rush. But while it relieves the country of its heavy dependence on Middle Eastern oil, it does nothing to modernise the energy system through renewables and cleantech – and consequently China moves further ahead as the lead player (along with Germany and to some extent Japan).

The new data from China’s energy administration reveal just how committed China is becoming to its renewables sector – and how that will underpin the country’s energy security. It is worth pointing out that this will have a dramatic impact on China’s carbon emissions, slowing their growth and hastening the year when they will actually start falling.

Join the conversation

61 Comments sorted by

  1. David P

    PhD Student

    "rather than on mining and extraction of ores"

    What about the environmental costs of mining and processing Neodynium, to make the magnets for wind turbines?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html

    Not so "clean" tech if you ask me.

    Do you really think cleantech is going to come to the rescue and allow us to continue our consumptive ways? We need to power DOWN, not live in a fantasy that renewables will allow us to continue powering UP.

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-12-09/powerdown-let-s-talk-about-it

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to David P

      This is an argument often used for clean tech.

      That is, at the moment it requires fossil fuel to build clean tech and unless the clean tech delivers substantiably more energy than it used to create - ultimately it is a waste of time in carbon terms.

      This is a strawman argument.

      Everything you do uses C02 at the moment including you typing that comment, so the fact that wind turbines require C02 emmissions to build is not an argument against wind turbines anymore than it is an argument against you leaving your comment.

      So how do we get around the fact that building wind turbines uses fossil fuel?

      Simple, you build wind turbines to create the wind turbines!

      ironically if they powered the mines, the factories and the rest from wind this argument wouldn't exist.

      So that's how you deal with this issue, not just throwing your hands up in the air and crying about how much of a problem it is - you just get on with it.

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    2. David P

      PhD Student

      In reply to Michael Shand

      I wasn't referring to emergy (embodied energy), I was highlighting the fact that China too is a mineral extraction hub, and that their lax environmental policies simply allows Western countries to get cheap turbines at the expense of the environment in China.

      I've got no problem with cleantech, but it's not 'clean' if it's construction results in a radioactive lake in China, whilst we in the west enjoy our privileged lifestyles, whilst thinking we're making a difference.

      Really making a difference is thinking full cycle on cleantech, focusing on the right cleantech (such as Repower Port Augusta), but most importantly, changing the wasteful, consumptive structures in our society.

      ... and yeah right any of that's going to happen when our leaders are dollar-dogs on the leash of the growth-hungry corporations.

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    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to David P

      I mean this seems simple right - regardless of what product they were making that caused pollution - the answer to that pollution is tougher regulation in china

      You personally not buying the product doesn't change anything as others are still going to buy it.

      IE> you won't have solved the problem of radioactive waste spill by not buying that product

      Explain this to me again, china has lax regulation on industry and the way to fix this is to not buy their products?

      Your logic doesn't make any sense as it doesn't address the issue - Full on trade restrictions involving multiple countries might add preasure to china but good luck getting Russia and US to agree to that - meanwhile we are destroying the great barrier reef so we would kind of be massive hypocrites.

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    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to David P

      As an example, I don't buy Iphones and try not to buy Apple because of factory conditions in china

      but for some reason that hasn't fixed the problem like you suggest it would

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    5. David P

      PhD Student

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Yes I agree that the individual has no power against globalised supply chains and externalised pollution.

      I would just hope that any Western country seeking to install renewables on a large scale would seek to minimise these externalities.

      That's why I have more support for projects like Repower Port Augusta (concentrated solar thermal with storage), because hopefully (and I'm no expert) we could do a lot of the manufacturing (steel frames and mirrors) here in Australia. Can we not re-invigorate our manufacturing industry by becoming leaders in this technology?

      Yes, it is obscene that we are rushing to expand coal exports now, because good luck doing that ten years down the track (if all goes well with global CO2 agreements).

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    6. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to David P

      I think you hit the nail on the head with the manufacturing point and about building industry in Australia and the port Augusta plan seems like a winner.

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    7. Bob Bingham

      Mr.

      In reply to David P

      I would not rely on any article from a tits and bums paper like the Daily Mail but saving energy is a lot cheaper than building new capacity. We should be actively converting transport to electricity although that would be not much good in Australia because it would simply be running on coal.

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    8. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Because other consumer electronics other than Apple/iPhone is manufactured somewhere different?

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    9. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Luke Weston

      I think you closed in on the important point here.

      That avoiding buying the Iphone doesn't solve the issue

      In the same way that avoiding buying wind turbines doesn't stop the supposed radioactive lake in china

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    10. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Moreover the conditions + pay in factories like Foxconn, while clearly more stressful, draconian and underpaid than workers in those few Australian factories that still exist, are actually *better* than in much of China.

      The suicide rate of workers at Foxconn even in 2010 was *lower* than the national average. It's a *big* company with some very *big* dormitories.

      http://www.economist.com/node/16231588

      As for radioactive lakes having anything to do with wind turbines, there is no requirement for rare earth magnets in turbines. Many wind turbines have no fixed magnets at all. More rare earths are used in the manufacture of toys, fridges and fridge magnets, vacuum cleaners, power tools and diesel generators than in those wind turbines which do use them. There is no rare earth component whatsoever in silicon PV solar cells.

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    11. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Totally agree, anytime I hear any argument against renewables that could just as easily apply to any other product - Iphone, laptop, fridge, etc - I die a little inside

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    12. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      "there is no requirement for rare earth magnets in [wind] turbines"

      Technically no requirement, but the rare earths do make them much more efficient/higher output/higher wind range. In reality, a lot of rare earths are used in wind turbines, as a result...

      (as they are in the batteries of Toyota Prius's, just to give another random factoid)

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    13. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      Yes, light-weight high-gauss magnets improve the efficiency (and especially the weight) of all sorts of motors and generators.

      There are no rare earths in the batteries of the Prius. Recent models use lithium ion batteries, older ones use nickel metal hydride batteries.

      There are rare earths in the electric motors of the Prius. And indeed in the starter motor of every other recent-model car.

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    14. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      About 5kg of lanthanum (yes, it's a rare earth) in the NiMH Prius battery, as well as some neodymium in the electric motors.

      Toyota is maybe investigating replacing NiMH batteries with Li (vanadium-doped, perhaps - although that's not a rare earth), certainly none in production yet.

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    15. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      I stand corrected. Thank you.

      For some reason the M had cemented itself as "manganese" in my mind, although I know the acronym is "metal hydride", but that's completely wrong: manganese is used in traditional alkaline and some lithium batteries, but the "metal" in NiMH is indeed usually a rare earth alloy, and the older Prius batteries are no different.

      You learn something new every day :-)

      http://xkcd.com/1053/

      A few production Prius models (the 2012 and 2013 Plug-in Prius and the 2013 Prius V) definitely do already use lithium batteries, but the others are still NiMH. I stand (partially) corrected again.

      Apologies.

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  2. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Brilliant Article and the point about Australia investing in clean tech - couldn't of hit the nail harder on the head.

    Holden, ford, Dinosaurs will die

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  3. John Newlands

    tree changer

    I believe at the beginning of 2013 China had 750 GW of coal fired generation and was burning half the world's coal. I don't think that can be turned around easily. That coal provides the on-demand backup to cover lulls in intermittent wind and solar. Experience elsewhere such as Germany appears to show the integration problem becomes significantly more difficult after about 20% penetration by wind and solar. If this is a valid sticking point then China's renewables boom will max out in a few years.

    China is also building the most nukes, is developing a thorium reactor and has the world's single biggest power station with the Three Gorges hydro. However so great is the need to get 1.35 bn people up to Western standards of consumption as well as the energy needed for exports I cannot see them shaking off coal this side of 2050. If so they are not really a role model for us until they cut emissions say 80%. Aussie cultural cringe again.

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    1. Valerie Kay

      PhD candidate, public health

      In reply to John Newlands

      You don't need to be at "Western standards of consumption" to have vast improvements in health and wellbeing. Cuba has a higher life expectancy than the USA.

      Research shows that above a certain level of average income (much lower than ours) there is no significant improvement in average wellbeing between nations.

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    2. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Valerie Kay

      Is that the same Cuba that is totally undemocratic, has a secret police, jails political dissidents and tries to lock its people inside its borders

      The only reason Cuba a longer lifespan is that their people are forced to eat a low fat diet.

      I grant that this is a good thing, but given the choice, about 90% of Cubans would flock to the USA tomorrow if they were allowed.

      Gerard Dean

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    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "totally undemocratic, has a secret police, jails political dissidents and tries to lock its people inside its borders"

      Sounds like Australia

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    4. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Michael, "totally undemocratic ... Sounds like Australia" is a bit unfair. After all, we recently democratically elected a government. The fact that this government would love to be totalitarian, if we allowed it, is a side issue. </sarc>

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  4. Craig Myatt

    Industrial Designer / R&D

    The irony is that conservative politicians are falling over themselves to talk up coal because we sell that coal to china. Australia and China then both contribute to China's now highest level of emissions of any country. Both the production and the consumption of coal need to stop to slow dangerous global warming, but clearly that is now some time off.

    China should be respected for the effort in renewables...but still needs to do more to reduce coal fired power and it's emissions.

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  5. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    Any increases in renewables generation can only help the massive pollution problems that many Chinese cities have so long as renewables are operationally feasible for those locations where pollution is such a problem.
    As for percentage increases, would it not be better to consider power generated rather than rated power for obviously a coal fired or nuclear power station operating continuously will generate three to four times power of renewables with similar rated power.
    It may be that the total…

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  6. Comment removed by moderator.

  7. ted rees

    Retired Read-Write Engineer at disk memory

    Look at the numbers, not the text. China is now adding renewable capacity than fossil capacity. But, the existing capacity is about 40 times more than what is being added with renewable. Still, it is a move in the right direction.

    But, China is crazy. Look at all the empty cities. Look at the horrible pollution. With global warming where it is, all fossil fuel consumption needs to be dropping, not increasing. And, Australia's current government move toward more coal production, and less renewable is a crime against humanity, and worse, a crime against the world.

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    1. John Mathews

      Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University

      In reply to Jeremy Dawson

      Jeremy

      Thanks for picking up the errror. Of course we meant to say China has now passed the 1 billion kW mark ( or 1 terawatt) in terms of electric power generation capacity. As you say, at 1 kW/head this is still not very high.

      To Ted and others who make the point that it is the size of the entrenched fossil fuel system that counts, yes of course China's energy system is a big ship that is going to take a long time to turn. But you tell which way a system is headed by looking at the incremental…

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    2. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Mathews

      John,

      Whilst I agree with the general thrust of the article, you really need an engineer to proof-read things like this.

      Using "capacity" (measured in watts, kW, MW, GW etc) is quite misleading.

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  8. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Something's amiss here: "China’s power system passed the 1 million kilowatt mark (kW)" -- that's 1GW, or the output of one standard nuclear reactor, or 2 large coal plants.

    China's local solar efforts are great and should be copied worldwide. Its wind efforts are less valuable, especially as climate change continues...
    http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/wind/a-less-mighty-wind
    www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/us/21tttransmission.html?_r=1&hpw

    Fortunately, its nuclear efforts are moving ahead. Yet, despite all their new, emissions-free power, China estimates it will burn about twice as much coal in 2035 as it does now. Lots of that will come from Australia, lots from the US.

    And, we haven't the time remaining to allow that. Ma Nature will instruct us, sooner rather than later. http://tinyurl.com/n2qnos6

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  9. Mike Pope

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Methinks this article misrepresents. China unquestionably remains the largest emitter of CO2-e in the world and its emissions continue to rise. Perhaps Dr Mathews would give us statistics on the following for each of the last 5 years:

    Total electricity generation, percentage produced by fossil fuels.
    Other production of energy, percentage produced by fossil fuels.

    Then we can get a clear picture and determine the magnitude of Chinese increase in fossil fuel usage.

    I do not dispute that China is increasing its use of renewable energy sources, but I do dispute that this has resulted in reduced consumption of fossil fuels.

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    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Mike Pope

      "I do not dispute that China is increasing its use of renewable energy sources, but I do dispute that this has resulted in reduced consumption of fossil fuels. "

      Well those are 2 different things aren't they.

      We know China's power usage is going to rise until they are comparable with countries like Australia, so the extra energy was going to come from somewhere and every Watt that is renewable is one less Watt that would of been fossil fuel based.

      we hear this all the time with the carbon tax as well, that it didn't dramatically impact energy consumption....probably cos it wasn't supposed to

      building renewables in an expanding market doesn't mean you use less fossil fuel....because the market is expanding

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  10. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    With similar land size, Australia, with its miniscule population must appear as a natural vacuum to the 1200 million Chinese.
    So here is a future renewables scenario.
    The conservative government, relying upon minerals sold into the China market, induces a reaction which sees China buy its minerals elsewhere.
    In the "Inevitable Abbott Recession", Australian assets become available at bankruptcy sale prices, and a cashed up China, makes an offer that Abbott and company cannot refuse.
    The the "vacuum" is filled by Chinese migration which is sustainable because it can be managed with renewable technologies.
    So "Australia" gets more renewable technologies.
    What is the time scale?

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  11. Bob Bingham

    Mr.

    A lot of people have forgotten the DeGaul decided that France should not be dependant on middle east oil and built over fifty nuclear plants to power the country. He also built a lot of hydro power and he put in place plans for a network of high speed trains to connect the country if the oil ran out or became expensive. It is still being expanded and works well.

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  12. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Luke Weston

      That was basically my point above. The whole article needs to be re-written (or spiked) as a result.

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  13. Henry Verberne

    Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

    We are the dinosaurs in Australia or rather, we have a government run by dinosaurs. Suspect reality will smack them in the face before too much longer though.

    BTW: kind of show how those deniers who have alleged that China is building much more coal fire power stations than it is renewable power, are talking through their fundamental orifice!

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    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      See Henry, that is where the article is wrong and misleading. Capacity for intermittent generation is not equivalent to capacity for fossil and nuclear.

      A decent fossil coal plant might have availability of maybe 90%+, nuclear about the same, wind and solar perhaps 25%.

      So China is actually adding about three times as much coal power as renewables, if the articles figures are right (I suspect they are close). So the article is pretty much spin than substance. Sadly.

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    2. John Mathews

      Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      Response to Andy

      Enough already with the ad hominem attacks -- misleading, wrong, mendacious etc etc

      I quote the data as given. So do the IEA, the US EIA, the OECD, the FERC in the US and the NEA in China. You interpret the data as you wish. Of course there is a difference in capacity utilization between nuclear and wind, just as there are cost differences in $/watt.

      It is possible to secure access to total electricity generated, but not in the same 'real time' as capacity data.

      If someone can supply recent Chinese electricity generation data for 2013 (e.g. from the CEC) then we would all be grateful.

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    3. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Mathews

      Sorry, John, I didn't use the word "mendacious" (deliberately, as it would imply you were lying, which I don't believe you are). "Mendacious" is ad-hominem, "wrong" is referring to your information. I'll give you a "gentleman's pass" on the first figure you quote, which as you say elsewhere was a typo (can authors not edit already-published Conversation articles?)

      I read a lot of the IEA, NEA etc documents, and whilst they may put out similar numbers, they don't equate nameplate capacity for renewables…

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    4. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      'You say. for instance "[China's electricity is] now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels."'

      Your elision and insertion is very much putting words in the author's mouth. The actual quotation reads

      "It means that the growth of its electric power system – that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country – is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels."

      See the difference?

      Do better.

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    5. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      OK, I'll do some maths for you.

      Take the 57% figure that's in a few places - the proportion of new power capacity based on renewables. Assume (and it's a reasonable assumption, even though not in the article - the biggest omission) that the capacity factor (the proportion available on average) of renewables is 25%.

      25% times 57% (14.25%) of new Chinese power generation (let alone existing which is much lower) is renewables. That means 85%-odd of *new* power generation is not (there may be some nuclear in there, but the vast majority would be coal-powered.

      Not sure why I should be doing better - I'm not the article author....

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    6. John Mathews

      Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      To Andy

      You are making a lot out of these capacity differences. But maths done in a vacuum can be dangerous. China generates most of its renewably-powered electricity from hydro, which has a better capacity utilization factor than coal or nuclear. So there goes the bulk of your argument.

      Of course the real test is actual electricity generated (in MWh or TWh) broken down by source -- but here the statistics from China are not as up to date as in the case of generation capacity. If someone has access to 2013 data for electricity generated in China in 2013, by source, we should all be most interested to learn of it.

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    7. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      You should do better than misquote the authors and impute a straw-man misunderstanding to them.

      Capacity factors of dispatchable generators are also significantly lower than 100%. In 2011, China generated 4.69 petawatt hours of electricity, of which 65% or 3.04 PWh was from coal. Yet the total coal-fired generation capacity at the start of that year was a whopping 590 GW capable of generating over 5.1 PWh, and that's not counting the new capacity added through the year. So coal's capacity factor (that year) was at best 60%.

      The 25% capacity factor of Chinese wind power and the 60% capacity factor of Chinese hydro (ok, fine, it's only 50% in a drought year) don't look at all bad in comparison, to my eye.

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    8. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to John Mathews

      Just by the by, the recent trend for wind turbine manufacturers is to lighten the machinery in order to enable operation in gentler winds (thus producing zero power for fewer hours per year than older turbines), and to increase height and blade length *without* increasing the peak capacity of the generator itself, merely feathering the blades when the wind is high (thus producing 100% of capacity for many more hours per year).

      This dramatically improves the capacity factor. I won't comment on whether that's deliberate :-)

      http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/wind-turbine-net-capacity-factor-is-50-the-new-normal-50910

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    9. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Mathews

      Sorry, John, a bit of googling should have thrown up some numbers.

      Your projection of 43-44 GW (capacity...!) of renewables for this year - let's accept that. The Chinese 2013 target for solar PV (and the Chinese tend to move heaven and earth to meet these sorts of targets) is additional 18GW (http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/09/solar-growth-outpaces-wind-for-first-time) - it was 8.3GW last year.

      There will be also a fair bit of wind (although I think they are falling behind their 50GW-by-2015 target).

      Doesn't leave much for hydro, so I believe my point still holds.

      Bloomberg NEF is one of the better analysis outfits around, the exec summary of this http://about.bnef.com/white-papers/the-future-of-chinas-power-sector/ gives a pretty good idea of how it will be 2030 or mor before coal is overtaken in China...

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    10. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Jonathan, coal was load-following, so it's not a technology constraint, more a demand constraint. Also, typically old coal plants are kept on the active list either to provide VARs, or for peaking/outage purposes, artificially lowering the apparent capacity factor. Let me know if you don't understand that paragraph.

      Where on earth have I misquoted the authors?

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    11. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Jonathan, bigger wind turbines are more efficient and can operate at lower wind speeds (and so can have a higher capacity factor).

      Couple problems, though:

      The Chinese aren't installing those turbines, more like the older, low-capacity generation.
      Also, the better sites get used up, so it will be increasingly hard to keep the average capacity factor up

      And...you're conflating a maximum ("such machines can often hit 50% capacity factor") with an average (which is misleading). I could equally say "OCGTs can achieve a 62% thermal efficiency and a 98% availability" - it's true, but they don't normally.

      My best guess: Chinese wind-turbine additions in 2013 will have a capacity factor of less than 30%. (And the installed-base average will be a few % lower)

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    12. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Mathews

      Yep, making a lot out of the capacity differences.

      Because they are huge and significant. Is there a problem with that?

      You're challenging my comments, but not fixing the problems in your article... I don't see a lot of factual counter-argument against my (I hope somewhat-informed) comments....

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    13. John Mathews

      Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University

      In reply to Andy Saunders

      Andy, it's not a matter of belief, but of what the evidence presents. So far this year, the Chinese have added new renewable capacity of 33.8 GW -- 7.9 from wind, 3.6 from solar PV and 22.3 from hydro. These are facts.

      My point has been that capacity additions by fossil fuels and nuclear fall short of this. Whatever way you wish to interpret it, this is a significant development.

      As Jonathan has been emphasizing, we are talking here about changes at the margin, at the leading edge -- not…

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    14. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to John Mathews

      Yeah, but the way facts are presented can come across as spin.

      For instance, I could say (and it would be correct) that China will add more coal-fired power generation this year than renewables. It wouldn't get me a job as a spin-doctor writing renewables press-releases, but it might make some people better informed. Don't know about you, but I prefer less PR and more relevant facts in my news.

      (for those who wonder how both John and I can both be correct, the coal-fired capacity may be less than the renewables capacity - John's point, but it will run more and deliver more energy - my point)

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  14. Robert Edwin White

    Professor Emeritus

    I am glad that someone like Andy Saunders was able to critique this article with authority. I regularly scan the Conversation, but take very little of what is written at face value, especially the topics that I know something about. . There is no peer reviewing (nor good proof reading it seems) and the editorial policy of the Conversation seems to be - gee whiz, let's push this particular social engineering barrow today.

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  15. Ai Rui Sheng

    Retired

    Data from the Mainland must be viewed with suspicion. Even when collected with a good heart much of the data is spurious. The economic results of recent times have almost always reflected the forecasts of the central planners.

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  16. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    "Manufacturing industries will underpin the urbanized world of tomorrow ...", assuming Global Warming caused by carbon pollution leaves us an urbanised world. I am not so sanguine about our prospects, unless the developed world follows China's lead toward lower emissions.

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  17. William Hughes-Games

    Garden weed puller

    China can make such great strides in renewables because she has a command economy. The west could do likewise but only if the influence of the fossil fuel industry on our politicians ceased. A good first step would be to outlaw all political contributions from any source and to give each politician a find from the government to run his campaign. Sound expensive??? It would be far less expensive than what we have now. The cost of the present system is enormous.

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    1. Andy Saunders

      Consultant

      In reply to William Hughes-Games

      Dunno about the political comments, but China certainly used the command economy to absorb enormous losses selling solar and wind equipment at uneconomic prices in the hope (may be correct) that they could drive down the cost by sheer willpower and volume) to eventually make money from it (and be almost a monopoly supplier to the world).

      I'd just hate to be the Chinese taxpayer funding it all. Oh wait, I've been funding Holden since ????

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  18. Atanacio Luna

    Director of Research

    Lets just hope this is true, and meaningful. One Gigawatt of renewables is about 500 MW of dispatchable power. Still, they are going in the right direction. Hopefully it will get other nations to compete on this basis, and not just make excuses. I would like to see consideration of truly revolutionary concepts. I am the author of one such concept that would allow for unlimited economic growth and repair of the environment. It is not impossible, we just need to design our energy system to work with nature, not against it. We only use 11% of the land for human needs, yet we have destabilized the whole planet. With good energy systems design we can have current or larger population and expand our reach into space exploration, and colonization.

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