China Skipped COP Meeting, but Roars Ahead on Decarbonizing

November 4, 2021


China has over the course of the year revealed the extensive scope of its plans for nuclear, an ambition with new resonance given the global energy crisis and the calls for action coming out of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow. The world’s biggest emitter, China’s planning at least 150 new reactors in the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35. The effort could cost as much as $440 billion; as early as the middle of this decade, the country will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest generator of nuclear power.

The government’s never been shy about its interest in nuclear, along with renewable sources of energy, as part of President Xi Jinping’s goal to make China’s economy carbon-neutral by mid-century. But earlier this year, the government singled out atomic power as the only energy form with specific interim targets in its official five-year plan. Shortly after, the chairman of the state-backed China General Nuclear Power Corp. articulated the longer-term goal: 200 gigawatts by 2035, enough to power more than a dozen cities the size of Beijing.

It would be the kind of wholesale energy transformation that Western democracies — with budget constraints, political will and public opinion to consider — can only dream of. It could also support China’s goal to export its technology to the developing world and beyond, buoyed by an energy crunch that’s highlighted the fragility of other kinds of power sources. Slower winds and low rainfall have led to lower-than-expected supply from Europe’s dams and wind farms, worsening the crisis, and expensive coal and natural gas have led to power curbs at factories in China and India. Yet nuclear power plants have remained stalwart.

“Nuclear is the one energy source that came out of this looking like a champion,” said David Fishman, an energy consultant with The Lantau Group. “It generated the whole time, it was clean, the price didn’t change. If the case for nuclear power wasn’t already strong, it’s a lot stronger now.”


IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that renewable energy’s share of all new generating capacity rose considerably for the second year in a row. More than 80 per cent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91 per cent of new renewables.

China and the United States of America were the two outstanding growth markets from 2020. China, already the world’s largest market for renewables added 136 GW last year with the bulk coming from 72 GW of wind and 49 GW of solar.  The United States of America installed 29 GW of renewables last year, nearly 80 per cent more than in 2019, including 15 GW of solar and around 14 GW of wind.

According to IRENA the International Renewable Energy Agency, total global renewable installations reached 260 GW in 2020.
In other words, China added more than the rest of the world combined.

Also –


Scientists are excited about an experimental nuclear reactor using thorium as fuel, which is about to begin tests in China. Although this radioactive element has been trialled in reactors before, experts say that China is the first to have a shot at commercializing the technology.

The reactor is unusual in that it has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water. It has the potential to produce nuclear energy that is relatively safe and cheap, while also generating a much smaller amount of very long-lived radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive, silvery metal found naturally in rocks, and currently has little industrial use. It is a waste product of the growing rare-earth mining industry in China, and is therefore an attractive alternative to imported uranium, say researchers.


4 Responses to “China Skipped COP Meeting, but Roars Ahead on Decarbonizing”

  1. renewableguy Says:

    1.5 times load production, plus 12 hours storage meets our energy needs. At this piont point hydrogen can be the backup when the really rare times happen on low energy production.

  2. jimbills Says:

    China’s level of renewables is good in that it offsets what would be fossil fuels. But the percent of the grid and the total amount of yearly emissions are the MOST important numbers, and China is about 1/3 renewables plus nuclear on their grid (the U.S. is 40%), and China uses 53% of the world’s coal:

    China’s yearly emissions are more than the U.S., EU, India, and Russia combined:

    They’re just too derdgernnit big. The fact that they didn’t show up at COP26 says all we need to know about their plans for fossil fuels the next decade. They don’t want anyone or anything preventing their near-term growth.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      …their plans for fossil fuels the next decade. They don’t want anyone or anything preventing their near-term growth.

      I’m ambivalent on that. They’ve been pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, a truly impressive feat. They’ve also been producing a lot for the rich countries that probably aren’t counting those emissions.

      Once the nukes come online, it will be easier to ditch the coal, which costs both in terms of GHG and pollutant emission and the need for constant fueling. Wind and PV solar with storage will continue to have an advantage in the 60+% of the country that is water-deficient/unreliable.

    • jimbills Says:

      We’re kidding ourselves, though, if we think fossil fuels haven’t been what have pulled much of the world out of poverty. There’s a direct correlation. China’s just been the latest to do it. But they, like every other developed nation, have emitted a lot of carbon while doing it.

      I don’t feel like doing the math on it right now – maybe someone out there is – but I’d be willing to bet that the new nuclear plants are only going to cover the growth portion in future electricity demand. Again – it does mean that growth isn’t being used for fossil fuels – and that’s a very good thing. But, it would also not be as impressive as it seems on paper as far as cutting China’s total carbon emissions.

      China’s plan to build more coal-fired plants deals blow to UK’s Cop26 ambitions

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