The new year brought some deserved celebration of the advance of renewable energy in China, as the government announced nearly 8 Gigawatts of wind power additions and 3.6 Gigawatts of new solar installed during 2013. But as I’ve previously pointed out, it is important to keep this laudable progress in perspective compared to the still staggeringly large annual increase in new China coal power capacity.
Not everyone did so. In a January 4 article entitled “China Roars Ahead with Renewables,” for example, The Ecologist magazine claimed: “Reports of China opening a huge new coal fired power station every week belie the reality – China is the new global powerhouse for renewable energy…It means that the growth of its electric power system – that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country – is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels.” The report concluded, “These results reveal just how strongly China is swinging behind renewables as its primary energy resource. . . .”
Unfortunately, this rosy picture is not justified by the numbers. Once again, in 2013, coal was the big winner. As the graph below shows, when adjusted for capacity factor (the amount of energy each Gigawatt of capacity puts out in a year), it’s clear that new fossil energy output in China, most of it coal, exceeded new wind energy by six times and solar by 27 times: