China, US, on Track to Meet Climate Goals
February 26, 2016
The United States is racing toward achieving the goals of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), even as the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia raises the prospect of a deadlocked Supreme Court ruling. Achieving CPP carbon-dioxide emissions targets 14 years ahead of schedule is now likely thanks to a remarkable confluence of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies each achieving affordability after decades of developments.
Technologies from LED lights to electric cars to heat pumps are leaping past their less-efficient successors and are poised for mass adoption. Meanwhile, plunging prices push wind turbines and now solar panels into pole position for least-cost new electric capacity. Together, the technological innovations and market shifts are drastically reducing our nation’s need for coal for electric generation, and is even slicing into natural gas demand as well.
The Clean Power Plan requires a 32 percent reduction in power sector carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. As of 2014, the latest year available, emissions had fallen 15 percent. U.S. power plant consumption of coal, the leading source of carbon dioxide targeted by the CPP, fell an additional 12 percent in 2015.
Oddly, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts power plant coal consumption to stabilize through 2017. However, those forecasts are unreliable since EIA has long forecast renewable energy costs to be a factor of three or more higher than utilities actually pay for wind or solar.
The EIA’s inexplicably high forecasts of coal use also appear to neglect the five-year extension by Congress in December 2015 of tax credits for renewable energy. That extension likely will shift all new generation to renewables for years to come, with sharp declines in coal and even natural gas.
China’s lead climate envoy has hinted the country could exceed planned greenhouse gas cuts for 2020 by up to 10%, as the economy slows and coal use falls.
Addressing a conference in Hong Kong, Xie Zhenhua said the country would likely “far surpass” a goal to slash the carbon emissions in a unit of GDP 40-45% on 2005 levels by 2020.
The veteran diplomat, who negotiated for China at last December’s Paris summit, revealed the country could cut its carbon intensity by 50% by the end of the decade.
“China’s market for coal consumption has started to become saturated and should gradually decline,” he added in comments reported by the South China Morning Post
Official data suggests coal use by the world’s top carbon polluter fell 2.8% in 2015 while mining output dropped 3.5%.
The government had investments of $628 billion in the green economy planned up to 2030, Xie said, but admitted more support needed to be directed towards emissions data reporting, which experts say is unreliable.
“It is a question of ability … At every level of statistics there are exaggerations added to the data. Everyone knows that, and everyone is anxious [to fix it],” he said.
“We have set up a system to calculate and monitor energy saving and emission reduction, and are gradually improving it.”
China solidified its standing as the world’s wind energy behemoth in 2015, adding almost as much wind power capacity in one year as the total installed capacity of the three largest U.S. wind-producing states: Texas, Iowa and California.
New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show China installed just under 29 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2015, surpassing its previous record of roughly 21 GW set in 2014. The country also accounted for more than 46 percent of all wind power installed globally for the year, eclipsing the next largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 GW (ClimateWire, Jan. 28).
Amy Grace, head of wind insight at BNEF, said the Chinese growth figure was the biggest surprise of 2015 and roughly 4 GW higher than analysts predicted. After China and the United States, the world’s largest markets for new wind power in 2015 were Germany, India and Brazil, with gross installs of 3.7, 2.6 and 2.6 GW, respectively.
Grace noted in an email that Chinese developers “got very excited about qualifying projects” before the government implemented a second round of reductions to its feed-in tariff program for onshore wind farms. The reforms, initiated in early 2015, reduced payments to turbine owners by roughly 3 cents per kilowatt-hour across the country’s primary wind-energy-producing regions in the north and west of the country.
But a rush to collect cash wasn’t the only driving factor behind China’s wind energy boom, according to other experts who track the country’s energy indicators. Nor does a boom in Chinese turbine installations necessarily translate into a proportionate gain in electricity flowing to China’s grid.
Joanna Lewis, an associate professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, said China’s wind power sector has also been aided by a steep decline in manufacturing and installation costs, as well as the establishment of a robust domestic supply chain, led by the nation’s industry leader, Goldwind.
“The feed-in tariff is still important as a driver,” Lewis said, “but there are other government policies and incentives that are continuing to drive the rapid pace” of wind power development in China. They include the central government’s commitment to replace heavily polluting coal-fired power plants, which are blamed for wrenching air conditions in China’s cities, with non-emitting resources such as wind, solar and hydropower.