How China set the path for net carbon neutrality by 2060

Workers move a sign at the Olympic Village for the 2022 Winter Olympics in the Chongli district of Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China, October 29, 2020.

Image: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Stephanie Jamison
Senior Managing Director, Accenture
Roberto Bocca
Head of Centre for Energy and Materials; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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At the United Nations General Assembly in September this year, President Xi Jinping announced his pledge for China to reach peak emission by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. This goal set the tone for major transformation in the years ahead.

Progress in developing renewables has been impressive - China already has the largest installed capacity of renewables in the world, with more than 360 GW of hydropower, more than 200 GW of wind and more than 200 GW solar installed capacity respectively. As of end 2019, China’s total installed renewable capacity is almost 1.5 times that of the European Union’s and 2.8 times that of the United States.

Nonetheless, more needs to be done, both on the supply and demand side for China to meet its carbon neutrality goals as well as address environmental concerns such as air quality.

More than 400 government and business leaders gathered in Beijing on the 10 November to discuss opportunities to transition to a low-carbon economy. Over 5 million people tuned in to watch this live International Forum for Energy Transition hosted by China State Grid in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Three main themes emerged as participants discussed how China can meet its bold climate commitments.

1. The role of science and technology

Technologies such as ultra-high voltage (UHV), big data, the cloud and artificial intelligence will be the foundation to a sustainable, modern energy system. The Qinghai-Henan, a 1,587 km long UHV direct current (DC) power line for transmitting renewable power over a long distance, is one such example. When completed, the Qinghai-Henan transmission project will transmit 8 GW of electricity generated from solar and wind in the remote north-western interior - where renewable resources are abundant - to demand and population centres in the east.

Additionally, the “internet of energy”, based on a combination of technologies such as AI, big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), is set to be a key driver for Chairman Xi’s energy revolution. The internet of energy will improve the alignment of supply and demand by connecting the communication, information and energy networks. This infrastructure will enable the integration of large volumes of variable renewables, while also facilitating the optimisation of demand for greater flexibility and the transition to e-mobility.

2. Innovation in energy usage and smart cities

Besides developing renewable resources, energy efficiency and innovations in energy end use will be key to a low carbon future. With an estimated 255 million people set to be added to Chinese cities by 2050, clean and sustainable cities must be a key part of the solution.

One example of this is the carbon-neutral Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by Beijing and Zhangjiakou in 2022. The Zhangbei flexible direct current (DC) project is key to realising the event’s carbon neutrality target. Leveraging abundant solar and wind resources in Zhangjiakou, this DC transmission line project aims to provide a 100% clean electricity supply to the Winter Olympics in 2022.

The deployment of electric vehicles to replace petrol and diesel fuels with clean electricity will be another key lever to decarbonisation. China already has the world's largest electric vehicle charging system with close to 1 million charging piles servicing 4.8 million electric vehicles. Continuous development and innovation in the area of charging standards and advancing deployment of electric vehicles will have a major impact on emissions as well as air quality within China and beyond.

3. Partnerships and international cooperation

Combatting the global climate challenge will also require partnerships and cooperation beyond organisational and national borders. Examples include Hitachi-ABB’s collaboration with State Grid to integrate large-scale renewables into China’s power system and the partnership between China Energy Investment Corporation and EDF on the 500 MW Dongtai offshore wind project and.

Initiatives such as the Global Energy Interconnection - the idea of meeting the world’s energy needs through a globally interconnected electricity grid powered by large-scale renewable sources – and clean energy developments in countries such as Pakistan, Morocco and Egypt as part of the “One Belt One Road” initiative also underscore the importance of international cooperation in advancing inclusive, sustainable, low-carbon development.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture and 30 global energy companies including China State Grid, developed a new approach to more holistically evaluate the economic, environmental, social and technical outcomes of potential energy solutions. Supporting analysis reveals the potential for the creation of 1.35million additional jobs over the next 5 years in China through continued growth of utility scale wind and solar.

These success stories highlight how co-innovation, expertise-sharing and co-financing are key to realising large-scale, complex clean energy development.

Shaping the future of the planet and the people

As Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency, said during the dialogue, transitioning the energy system is not only for the benefit of the planet, but also for advancing the future of billions of people around the world. With COP26 taking place next year and growing calls for more urgent and ambitious climate actions, the time to act is now. Collectively, we have the chance to shape an energy system that can deliver a low carbon future as well as a shared future of equity and opportunities for billions of people worldwide.

This article originally appeared on China Daily.

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