China’s wind and solar are now almost enough to power every home

Wind and solar output jumped 21 per cent last year to 1,190 terawatt-hours of electricity. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING – Wind turbines and solar panels are now generating almost enough electricity to power every home in China.

Wind and solar output jumped 21 per cent in 2022 to 1,190 terawatt-hours of electricity, the National Energy Administration said at a briefing on Monday.

That is not far off total residential power consumption of 1,340 terawatt-hours, the agency said, which was a 14 per cent increase on the prior year as more people spent time at home because of the government’s strict virus restrictions.

The near match underscores two important things about China’s power system.

One, of course, is the rapid growth in renewables as the country sinks hundreds of billions of dollars into meeting climate goals and reducing its reliance on expensive fossil fuels.

But tempering that is a second point: the relative insignificance of household power when it comes to energy demand in China.

Just 17 per cent of electricity use there was classified as residential in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

In the same year, homes accounted for 29 per cent of power consumption in Japan, and a whopping 39 per cent in the United States.

In China, factories are still king, with industry accounting for 60 per cent of all electricity needs. 

So, even with clean energy able to cover nearly every home, China’s generators still needed to burn more fossil fuels – and emit more greenhouse gases – just to keep up with what proved to be a relatively tepid year for economic growth. 

The economy is expected to expand much faster in 2023 after the lifting of zero-Covid.

That means emissions will rise again, even if there is enough wind and solar to keep the stove on and refrigerator cold in every home. BLOOMBERG

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