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China's Renewable Energies: Development Trend and Policy Options

Apr 16,2009

Lu Wei

Currently, China accounts for about one-tenth of world energy consumption and the imported oil products account for about 48% of the country's total consumption of oil products. Meanwhile, its coal consumption accounts for nearly 70% of its total consumption of primary energies and its CO2 emission accounts for 39% of the world total or ranks second in the world, next only to the United States. Therefore, developing clean renewable energies is an important measure to ensure China's energy security and to ease its emission reduction pressure.

China boasts of rich renewable energy resources. Over the past decade or so, the country has made great progress in developing and utilizing new renewable energies, including wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, tidal power, biomass power generation and liquid fuels. As a result of soaring oil price, the market competitiveness of wind energy, solar energy, biomass energy and other renewable energies has become somewhat higher and the development of these industries has become faster. The state promulgated the Law on New Energies in 2005, the Law on Renewable Energies in 2006 and the Long and Medium-Term Plan for the Development of Renewable Energies in November 2007. These documents clearly defined the guiding principles, main tasks, development goals, priority areas and support measures for the development of renewable energies. As a result, China's development of renewable energies entered a new phase.

I. Current State of China's Development and Utilization of Renewable Energies

1. While renewable energies assume a higher proportion of energy consumption, new renewable energies still claim a fairly small share and play a supplementary role

Since 2005, China's development and utilization of renewable energies have been rising rapidly. The annual utilization of renewable energies (excluding the biomass energy utilized in a traditional way) was respectively 166 million tons of coal equivalent (TCE) in 2005, 180 million TCE in 2006 and 220 million TCE in 2007. They respectively accounted for 7.5%, 7.4% and 8.2% of the country's total consumption of primary energies (Li Junfeng: China's Policy Framework for Renewable Energies, China Renewable Energy Association, Jan. 2007). In 2006, wind energy, solar energy, biomass energy and other new renewable energies accounted for only 0.93% (Table 1).

Table 1 Proportions of Renewable Energies in China's Energy Consumption





Consumption (10,000TCE)

primary energy consumption (%)

Consumption (10,000TCE)

primary energy consumption


Renewable energies





Other new renewable energies





Out of that





Heat utilization





Power generation





Biomass fuels





Source: The 2006 data originated from Li Feng: China's Policy Framework for Renewable Energies, China Renewable Energy Association, Jan. 2007; the 2005 data originated from the Long and Medium-Term Plan for the Development of Renewable Energies, NDRC Document No.2174, 2007.

Over the past two years, the growth of hydropower and wind power has been fairly fast among renewable energies. Their power-generating capacity respectively rose by 13% and 94%. As the growth of the coal power-generating capacity also rose sharply, the share of the power-generating capacity of renewable energies in the total power-generating capacity was relatively stable. In 2006~2007, China's total power-generating capacity of renewable energies and nuclear power accounted for about 22.3% and 22.6% of the country's total power-generating capacity. Specifically, hydropower generating capacity was respectively 128 million KW and 145 million KW, accounting for 20.6% and 20.3%; nuclear power generating capacity accounted for 1.1% and 1.2% (power generation accounted for about 2%); and wind power-generating capacity accounted for about 0.4% and 0.8%. Compared with the world average level, China's power generation with renewable energies accounts for a fairly higher ratio of power supply but its nuclear power is far below the world average level of 15%.

2. China's total utilization of renewable energies ranks among the highest in the world while its relative intensity1 remains at the world's medium-high level

In 2005~2006, China's investment in renewable energies was about 6 billion dollars, becoming one of the countries with the largest investment in this sector. In 2005, China's utilization of renewable energies (excluding the renewable energies utilized in the traditional way) accounted for about 13% of the world total, and its ratio of renewable energies to energy consumption was higher than the 5.7% world average level. Currently, China ranks first in the world in utilizing solar energy water heaters and methane generation and its production capacity of biomass liquid fuels exceeds 1 million tons, ranking third in the world. In 2007, China's grid-connected power generating capacity totaled 4.03 million KW, ranking fifth in the world; China's production capacity for solar energy photovoltaic batteries ranged between 0.8~1 million KW and its production in 2006 was 0.38 million KW, which was 16% of the world total and next only to the European Union and Japan (China-Britain Summit on Solar Energy: Solar Batteries Expected to Enter Low-Cost Era, http://www.cas.ac.cn/html/Dir/2008/03/06/15/61/16.htm) (Table 2).

Table 2 International Comparison of China's Development of Main Renewable Energies


World Total



End of 2005: generating capacity totaled 850 million KW, new hydropower construction mainly occurred in developing countries

End of 2005: generating capacity totaled 117 million KW, accounting for 13.7% of world totalpower generation totaled 130 billion KWh

Family methane

Over 20 million households, including 3.8 million households in India and 1.43 million households in Nepal

End of 2005: 18 million rural households with annual production of 7 billion cubic meters; 7 million large methane projects, with annual production of 1 billion cubic meters, ranking first in world

Solar energy water heaters

2005: 88 million KW, with heat-collecting area totaling 140 million square meters

2005: 68 million KW, with heat collecting area totaling 80 million square meters or over 60% of world total; annual production was 15 million square meters. Both production and possession ranked first in world

Bio-liquid fuels

2005: 30 million tons (16.2 million tons of oil equivalent), of which Brazil and USA respectively accounted for 48.6% and 44.7%; 2 million tons of bio-diesel

2005: 1.02 million tons of bio-ethanol (0.643million tons of oil equivalent), ranking third in world or accounting for 3% of world total; 50,000 tons of bio-diesel

Wind power

2005: generating capacity totaled 60 million KW, with an annual average growth rate of 30% in 20012005

End of 2005: Grid-connected generating capacity totaled 1.26 million KW, accounting for 2.1% of world total and ranking 8th in world; 0.25 million off-grid generating units with a total generating capacity of 50,000 KW

Biomass power generation

2005: generating capacity totaled 50 million KW, mainly in Nordic countries and USA

2005:  generating capacity totaled about 2 million KW, accounting for 4% of world total and including 1.7 million KW from bagasse, 0.2 million KW from garbage and rest from farm and forest wastes

Photovoltaic power generation

End of 2005: generating capacity totaled 6 million KW, of which Japan, Germany and USA accounted for 88%; photovoltaic battery production capacity totaled 1.2 million KW and solar thermal power generating capacity totaled 0.4 million KW

End of 2005: generating capacity totaled 70,000 KW; photovoltaic battery production capacity exceeded 0.3 million KW and production totaled 0.145 million KW, ranking third in world; photovoltaic battery production in 2006 totaled about 0.38 million KW, accounting for 16% of world total

Geothermal power

End of 2005: generating capacity totaled 9 million KW, mainly in USA, Iceland and Italy

Mainly geothermal heat utilization; large-scale geothermal power generation yet to be developed

Marine heat

Generating capacity totaled 0.3 million KW


Source: The Long and Medium-Term Plan for the Development of Renewable Energies and China Energy Development Report 2007, Social Science Documents Publishing House, March 2007; Li Junfeng & Shi Jingli: Present State and Development of China's Renewable Energy Technologies


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1Relative intensity refers to the ratio of new renewable energies to all energies.