China – an Energy Snapshot

The International Energy Authority has described China’s challenge to deliver a carbon-neutral economy by 2060 as the biggest climate undertaking ever made by any country and compared it to China’s successful challenge post-1978 to transform its rural economy into an industrial global powerhouse.

The scale and magnitude of the challenge facing the world’s largest CO2 emitter is daunting, given it accounts for about a third of all global emissions. Though it has been actively pursuing a sustainable energy policy for more than 20 years, coal still comprises more than 55% of the primary energy mix. This reflects a 10% reduction in the last decade and means the country remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which is used primarily to generate more than 60% of China’s electricity needs.

Beijing at sunset.

However, it is also the world’s renewables leader with 45% of the world’s installed capacity and was responsible for almost half of the globe’s renewable capacity added in 2020 – doubling its own growth from a year earlier. China is the largest investor in renewable energy accounting for 35% of the world’s total in 2021.

Between 2020 and 2030, China will have installed more solar and wind power than the entire installed electricity capacity of the US today. It overtook US’s installed renewables capacity in 2013.

Non-fossil fuels are now contributing around 29% of electricity while their generation capacity stands close to 45%.

“China faces a significant challenge to meet climate targets and its progress will be followed closely around the world. The critical role that has been identified for natural gas is encouraging and will help support planned rapid uptake of renewables.”

Paul Everingham, ANGEA CEO

China’s energy, in brief

  • Net zero target by 2060
  • World’s largest CO2 emitter
  • Coal provides 60% electricity
  • Massive renewable investment

China has committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 with carbon emissions peaking in 2030 – if not before – when carbon emission intensity will be at least 65% of the 2005 levels.

China is focusing on three main areas:

Going green: Adopting renewable and non-fossil fuels to cut emissions and reducing the role of fossil fuels though coal will remain a major contributor in the medium to long term.

Technology: Developing new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint, particularly to make coal cleaner and greener and renewables more efficient and affordable, as well as increasing the production of unconventional natural reserves such as shale, while establishing leading positions in new areas such as artificial intelligence and Electric Vehicles (EV).

Market reform: Liberalising the gas, power and oil sectors, developing power and environmental product trading while promoting foreign direct investment in multiple sectors including energy and transport.

Natural gas has a niche but critical role to help drive down air pollution and emissions where there has been heavy coal use. It is being prioritised for industry and for city heating to improve air quality in populated areas, as well as being linked to renewables as a complementary energy to build innovative distributed energy systems. Though its share of the primary energy mix is 8%, China’s natural gas consumption increased 250% in the last decade and is currently the third largest in the world.

By 2050, natural gas is expected to have 15% of the primary energy share with more than half coming from non-fossil fuels sources.

In the last 15 years, the government has built thousands of kilometres of domestic gas pipelines throughout the country, backed out coal for gas in cities and industry, started importing gas by pipeline from Russia and other central Asian countries and built 22 LNG regasification plants to become the world’s largest LNG importer in 2021.

In a 2020 State Council white paper, natural gas priorities focus on developing new technologies to increase production, including unconventional reserves such as shale, coalbed methane, tight gas and methyl hydrate, and improving midstream infrastructure – pipelines and storage.

With economic growth predicted to slow a little in 2023 before picking up again in 2024 and beyond, there will be a significant role in China for natural gas. The size of that role over the next 30 years will depend on how quickly China moves toward its renewables options, develops clean coal solutions and other technological solutions such as hydrogen.

China has plans to heavily invest in carbon capture, utilisation and storage over the next decade as it works to achieve its emission targets.

COP27 seemingly saw step in the right direction towards cooperation between China and the US on climate change but wide-ranging geopolitical tensions between the two countries have slowed progress.

ANGEA is an industry association representing LNG and natural gas producers, energy buyers, suppliers and companies in APAC. Based in Singapore, it works in partnership with governments and societies across the region to deliver reliable and secure energy solutions that achieve national economic, energy security, social and environmental objectives and meet global climate goals.

Photo of Beijing by Henry Chen on Unsplash