Coal-fired electricity generation in China, the world’s largest coal consumer, is expected to remain flat through 2040, according to EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2017 (IEO2017). Other fuels, such as renewables, natural gas, and nuclear power, are expected to make up increasing shares of China’s electricity generation.
Despite declines in coal’s generation share, IEO2017 projects that coal will remain an important component of China’s energy mix, peaking at nearly 4,400 billion kilowatthours (bkWh) by 2030. However, as China continues to replace older, less efficient generators with more efficient units, China’s power sector coal consumption is expected to peak as soon as 2018, at 4,800 million metric tons.
As part of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, a total of 150 gigawatts (GW) of new coal capacity has been canceled or postponed until at least 2020. Increasingly strict controls on total coal capacity and power plant emissions are expected to prompt the retirement of up to 20 GW of older plants and spur technological upgrades to China’s remaining 1,000 GW of coal power.
Coal remains China’s largest source of electricity, accounting for more than 72% of the nation’s electricity generation in 2015. In the Reference case of EIA’s long-term international energy projections, China’s coal share of generation steadily decreases to nearly 50% by 2040, as generation shares from renewables and nuclear both increase. By 2040, fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum) are still expected to make up most of China’s electricity generation mix.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017
EIA expects electricity generated from natural gas to grow by 6.5% between 2015 and 2040, with an addition of 70 GW of natural gas capacity. To support continued development, some energy-intensive urban areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan area and the northeast region of China will be encouraged to replace coal with natural gas.
Current renewable generation in China is dominated by hydroelectricity, which is the country’s second-largest source of generation after coal. Wind and solar currently account for relatively small amounts of generation, at 2.7% and 0.5%, respectively. However, EIA expects substantial growth over the coming decades, consistent with the targets in China’s most recent Five-Year Plan, designed to uphold the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In China’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) that it filed as part of the Paris Agreement, the country expressed its intention to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and increase the share of energy consumption from non-fossil sources to 20% by 2030. EIA projects solar capacity to grow to 240 GW by 2040, or by more than 7% per year from 2015 to 2040. Similarly, EIA expects nearly 280 GW of wind capacity to come online between 2015 and 2040, a growth rate of nearly 5% per year.
China’s most recent Five-Year Plan also set a target for the addition of 58 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020. Currently, China has 38 operational nuclear power reactors, with another 19 under construction. In 2015, China’s nuclear power plants generated an estimated 161 billion kilowatthours of electricity, representing 3% of China’s total net electricity generation.
More information about projected energy consumption in China and other countries is available in EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2017.
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In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.
Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.
Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.
This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.
But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.
In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.
But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.
Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.
Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.
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