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China’s energy transition: A look at key cities

As part of the country’s plan to reach net zero by 2060, China’s shift towards sustainable energy has been and will be a gradual effort. We take a look at key cities’ initiatives and continued progress on renewables.

© zhang kaiyv / Unsplash
© zhang kaiyv / Unsplash

In recent years, China has embarked on a monumental journey towards reshaping its energy landscape, driven by the pressing need to address environmental concerns, enhance energy security, and contribute to global sustainability goals. The shift is a nationwide movement, but four cities are leading the way with their energy transition efforts.

Beijing is making progress in building coal-free areas, substantially reducing the city’s coal use. Coal burning has long been a major source of air pollution in Beijing. The past two decades have witnessed continuous efforts of the city to upgrade end-of-the-pipe treatments and reduce the carbon footprint of the energy mix, with a focus on replacing coal-fired boilers and civil bulk coal and curtailing coal use both at the source and the end.

Four major coal-fired power plants have been shut down, and some 1.3 million urban and rural households have shifted to clean energy from heat pumps. The city’s total coal consumption fell from 11.65 million tonnes in 2015 to 1.35 million tonnes in 2020, and the share of coal in total energy consumption dropped to 1.5%. Electricity consumption accounts for 27.8% of the city’s total energy consumption, and the energy mix’s carbon intensity has been reduced. Solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources have been increasingly utilised based on local conditions, and the import of green electricity saw a tremendous boost as strong incentives for solar and wind power have been devised and implemented. As a result, the share of Beijing’s renewable energy use now stands at 10.4%.

Dalian is developing new technologies to enhance its power supply reliability. The city has developed China’s first large-scale chemistry energy storage system, building a battery station capable of storing 100MW/400MWh. According to China Central Television, Liaoning Province – where Dalian is located – will invest over 600 billion yuan (US$82.4 million) in renewable energy by 2030.

The investment will support the city to regulate peak grid capacity more effectively and to integrate variable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Dalian uses battery storage to enhance the city’s and Liaoning Province’s power grid, helping ensure the grid’s operation is safe and economical. Dalian is also supporting cost reductions for large-scale chemical energy storage, paving the way for the replication of its battery-power storage project. It is expected to drive up to 50 billion yuan (US$6.8 billion) of investments in related industrial supply chains.

Qingdao continues the decarbonisation process of the city’s energy mix, primarily aiming to enhance energy efficiency. Green and low-carbon development in key industrial, construction, and transportation sectors has accelerated. In 2020, energy consumption per unit of industrial added value registered at 0.38 tonnes of standard coal per 10,000 yuan (US$1,374), down 26.1% from 2015 levels.

About 7 million square metres of existing public buildings were made more energy efficient, and 26.34 million square metres of prefabricated buildings were added, accounting for over 45% of the city’s total new building areas. Public agencies’ per capita energy consumption dropped by 31.18%, and energy consumption per building area unit fell by 22.3%. In 2020, the total installed capacity of renewable energy such as wind, solar, and biomass stood at 2.532 million kW in the city, an increase of 2.4 times compared with 2015; electricity produced from renewable energy totalled 4.465 billion kWH, nearly three times that of 2015 levels.

Guangzhou has pressed ahead with green solutions that upgrade existing energy stations to be more efficient, encourage the use of smart water and electricity metres in bus stations and passenger terminals, and install energy-saving lamps and water-saving appliances. Lamps that are currently used in affiliated road passenger and bus stations are 100% energy-efficient, and devices mounted in public bathrooms are 100% water-saving. Supervision was conducted to keep the temperature of air conditioning at a proper level and to ensure the moderate use of lighting at bus stations, passenger stations, ferry terminals, bus rapid transit platforms and other traffic stations in an effort to cut energy consumption. Guangzhou Metro Group also went a step further by customising energy-saving solutions to each of its stations to reduce the use of energy across all of its operations.

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