Should China Rethink Its Strategy to Become Carbon Neutral?

It could be done for the same cost as sticking to coal and gas.
Loukia Papadopoulos

As environmental concerns grow, countries are increasingly being pushed to switch to low-carbon, if not net-zero emissions, systems. However, many fear that these goals are not cost-efficient or easily feasible.

Such is the case with China's economy. In order to become carbon neutral, the nation will require massive expansions of wind and solar power to displace the currently used coal and gas-fired power.

Today, the main problem with this shift is its variability: The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Now, a team of researchers from Harvard University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Tsinghua University have developed a model to find the best and most cost-effective way for China to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

"A comprehensive strategy moving beyond conventional planning assumptions to include large offshore wind generation, power storage, electric vehicles, green hydrogen production, and expanded transmission to balance power on a national basis can sharply reduce costs of integrating renewable power into the grid," write the researcher's in the description accompanying the report.

"In fact, the results show that realizing the carbon neutrality of China’s power system by 2050 is not only feasible but need not necessarily cost more than reliance on coal and gas-fired power, with no carbon constraints at all, to meet future electricity demands."

The report also provides lessons for other countries. They too can massively expand solar and onshore wind generation to decarbonize their power systems. Many of them — including the U.S. — can indeed engineer large offshore wind resources located close to urban load centers in coastal regions, argue the researchers.