China sets record solar target to combat air pollution and climate change


With the sun now clearly setting on the age of coal, China is accelerating its energy transition with an ambitious solar development plan. On March 16, China’s energy regulator, the National Energy Administration (NEA), released its official solar installation target for 2015 – a surprising 17.8GW. This marks a significant increase on the 15GW target from its draft target, and could attract 21 billion yuan (US$3.4 billion) of investment. The increase is a substantial jump from 2014’s total solar installation by 2014, and is clearly a response to the worsening public mood on air pollution. The “airpocalypse” poses a huge threat to public health, causing an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths each year. With public pressure mounting to clean up the economy faster, the Chinese government has vowed to impose tougher regulations to cut toxic smog this year. As a likely result, Shenhua, the world’s largest coal company, is predicting a 10 percent cut in its domestic coal sales in 2015. Such moves underline China’s resolve to move away from coal, and as it does all signs point to the global coal market moving into serious structural decline, with a high risk of stranded assets. For example, global carbon emissions stalled in 2014 despite economic growth continuing. A positive sign that coal use control and cap, as well as the switch to renewables, is accelerating the transition towards a cleaner and more resilient economy, better public health, and a greater chance to keep average global temperatures below a 2DegC rise for a safe climate.


RT@ClimateGroup: China’s #solar boom is shifting the country from its coal dependence:  #cleanrevolution

Key Points

  • China understands the urgency and deep economic and health benefits of the renewable energy transition, and is accelerating solar expansion. China has set the most aggressive goal of any country by targeting 17.8GW of solar installation in 2015, equivalent of the power for 2.9 million U.S. households, which, if fully delivered, will keep the country on solid track to deliver the target of 100 GW by 2020. As solar is expanding, global coal industry has gone bust with serious overcapacity, according to a recent report. Moreover, world’s biggest coal company Shenhua’s cutback in domestic coal sales in 2015 should be a signal clear enough to shed a light to those who refused to admit that the coal industry has become a sunset industry.
  • Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved if China speeds up its “war against pollution.” The pervasive smog has become a bigger risk to health and life in some of China’s major cities than smoking. The reaction to the recent documentary on air pollution showed that many Chinese people were irate that breathing could be a health hazard, and failing to address the issue fast enough has generated huge public dissatisfaction. Speeding up the energy transition could help China close the gap between the government efforts and public ire about the smog, and save hundreds of thousands of lives from premature death in China.
  • Coal is in structural decline. Cleaning up the economy makes sense for both economic growth and climate security.  China’s top weather scientist called for “climate security” with a warning of the “huge impact” of climate change on China’s food, infrastructure and the environment. China’s coal use and production has fallen for the first time in 2014, with the economic growth at a rate of 7.4 percent. China’s efforts in cleaning up the industrial sector also contributed to the global carbon emission stall for the first time in 44 years.


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Key Points

  • “As the top producer in China with a 15% market share, Shenhua is a key barometer for the Chinese coal market. This plan to reduce volumes a further 10% in 2015 sends an unmistakable signal that China is intent on cutting the emissions intensity of its energy mix by a rapid diversification away from coal. While proponents of the view that coal is only in a cyclical downturn argue the 2.9% reduction in China’s coal consumption in 2014 was an anomaly, Shenhua’s own forecast provides more evidence that China has passed peak coal.” – Tim Buckley Director of energy finance studies, Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)
  • “The drop in production and sales is simply a result of it falling in line with Premier Li Keqiang’s recently announced plans to cut the country’s energy intensity by another 3.1% in 2015 (building on the 4.8% decline in 2014) and to cap coal use to below 65% of total primary energy consumption by 2017.” – Tim Buckley Director of energy finance studies, Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)
  • “This is yet another positive sign that China is shifting to a low-carbon economy and will meet its 2030 climate goals. The Shenhua announcement is consistent with projections showing that coal use in China could peak by 2020 and decline thereafter with the low-carbon policies the country has put in place.” – World Resources Institute’s Global Director, Jennifer Morgan
  • “This projected drop in production by China’s largest coal company, coming hard on the heel’s of last year’s drop in the country’s overall coal consumption, demonstrates that China is serious about addressing both its domestic air pollution problems and the global climate crisis.  It augurs well for China’s ability to follow through on the announcement by President Xi last November that China intends to peak its overall greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2030.  In fact, it indicates that such a peak could be achieved even earlier, which is good news for all those who are working for a meaningful climate agreement in Paris.” – Union of Concerned Scientists’ Director of Strategy & Policy, Alden Meyer
  • “The most recent forecasts from Shenhua signal that coal production in China has entered its winter. As the largest coal-producing company in China and the second largest in the world, Shenhua’s projection of domestic coal sales reductions can serve as a weather vane for the industry. The high production era has ended. China’s coal production and consumption is expected to enter a plateau for the next few years and ultimately go downward with the continued development and improvement of energy efficiency, clean energy and renewables.” – Natural Resources Defense Council’s Senior Advisor on Climate Change, Environment and Energy, Fuqiang Yang
  • “The air pollution action plan that the government enacted in September 2013, along with government policies to cap coal consumption and transition the economy toward more sustainable economic growth and cleaner, more sustainable development, is redirecting investment towards cleaner energy. Continued strengthening of environmental regulations and enforcement and reductions in coal consumption are needed in order to meet the government’s air quality and climate change goals.” – Natural Resources Defense Council’s China Climate and Energy Policy Director, Alvin Lin

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