China's energy megabase plans

China’s Energy Megabase Plan was introduced in 2021, and is the world’s most ambitious renewable energy plan targeting 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar installations. The plan is to achieve 25% non-fossil energy for its primary energy by 2030.

China announced three successive batches of projects relying on very large renewable energy projects called megabases, and between now and 2030 over 455 GW of clean energy comes online. The balance was to come from rooftop or other utility grade PV or wind.

The background planning is based on the Sources Modern Energy system plan. The current plan is the 14th  of the 5-year Plan. It mapped out the Megabases across 7 regions. 

Megabase Specification

Each megabase produces a minimum of one gigawatt. These megabases are located in deserts and wastelands and were initially planned to be aided by new or retrofitted coal-fired power stations to help with intermittency. While the first plan called for upgrading old coal fired power plants, batteries will almost certainly be part of these megabase projects and some are already installed in the completed phases.

To put a megabase in context, a typical project in Germany might be around fifteen megawatts, or in the US perhaps fifty megawatts, although in 2023/2024 new projects are much increased in size to 300 to 600GW.

Progress of China’s Energy Megabase Plan

  • First batch of megabases announced in 2021.
    • Expected completion by the end of 2025 with 200GW
    • BNF report 97GW commissioned in 2023, mostly in the northwestern provinces.
    • Areas have more sunshine and greater land availability
    • Accounts for 63% of the total plant solar capacity.
  • The second batch
    • Announced in 2022 
    • The second batch completed by 2027.
    • No official word yet, but 2022 – BNF tracked 38GW in the second batch, located in northern China and 54% of project capacity will be generation in Centro and eastern China.
  • Batch 3 was announced in Feb 2022 .
    • BNF is tracking 53GW in the 3rd round – mostly along Yellow River.
    • Shando plans for 12 GW Offshore Wind by 2025, with a further 5 by 2027. Shando has 5GW planned offshore PV.
    • Complete by 2030

The balance of the 244GW comes on stream from 2026 to 2030, although there are no specific plans. 

Build out of Grids

Half of new power lines from 2021 to 2025 are to carry renewable energy. These megabases are in the country’s north and north-west provinces, such as Shanxi, Xinjiang and Hebei. China has built out over 55 HVDC lines in the country (Wikipedia) and most of these new megabases have associated HDVC lines.

Local use is important. New industries are encouraged in the rovinces. Local consumption is 58% of the capacity for these 3 megabases. Export capacity is 42% and transported to other provinces.

Small Scale Solar

Small scale rooftop expansion is more than half the build since 2021 and not part of the Megabase plans. Expect 2TW (2000GW) from 2024 to 2030

Impact of Megabases on Renewable Energy Manufacturing

The megabases have had a significant impact on the renewable energy industries. Demand for solar panels and wind turbines is continues to grow, and prices fall. 

However, there are also concerns about the ability of the grid to handle the increased capacity of renewable energy, and about the potential for curtailment in areas where there is not enough demand for the electricity generated by the megabases.

Coal Backup

The projects are largely wind and solar, but the plan calls for new or retrofitted coal-fired power stations to help with intermittency.

  • No more than 30% fossil fuel 
  • Retrofitting 200GW of existing coal

China’s History of Renewable Energy

China leads the field in installed solar and wind as well as solar panel manufacturing (~72% of global total) and wind turbines (~45%). As the NEA shows, over the past decade from 2010 to 2020, wind installed capacity increased nine-fold and from 2015 to 2020, solar expanded six-fold. 

Between 2015 to 2020, China added an average of about 31 GW of wind and 38 GW of solar per year (and in 2020 alone it added 72 GW of wind and 48 GW of solar to the grid, according to the NEA). If we extrapolate those averages, then by 2030 wind and solar capacity will reach 580 GW and 650 GW respectively – 30 GW higher than the 1,200 GW target set for 2030.

From NEF, China Dialogue https://chinadialogue.net/en/energy/china-can-benefit-from-a-more-ambitious-2030-solar-and-wind-target/

Plan to be Carbon Neutral by 2060

 President Xi Jinping has mandated Chine to be carbon neutral by 2060. Zhang et al 2024 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2306517121 model this and conclude

  • China needs to build eight to 10 times more wind and solar power installations than existed in 2022. 
  • Requires major construction of transmission lines. (build out is underway).
  • Proximity. 80% of solar and 55% of wind to be within 100 km of major load centers. 
  • Ulitimately, expand wind and solar to 2,000 to 3,900 GW each
  • Needs 300 GW/yr combined annual additions in 2046 to 2060, 
  • Three-fold increase from today.

Note: The authors and others assume widespread electrification of transportation, industry, and buildings will double double electricity demand from 2020 to 15.4 PWh/yr by 2060. Yet we know from USA and others that electrification reduces energy demand. Heat pumps, electrification of transportation.

References

  1. Wind and Solar Scale Up as China Builds Megabases https://www.bloomberg.com/news/audio/2024-02-28/wind-and-solar-scale-up-as-china-builds-megabases-podcast
  2. China on course to hit wind and solar power target five years ahead of time Guardian 2023 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jun/29/china-wind-solar-power-global-renewable-energy-leader
  3. China can benefit from a more ambitious 2030 solar and wind target 2021 https://chinadialogue.net/en/energy/china-can-benefit-from-a-more-ambitious-2030-solar-and-wind-target/
  4. Chinas Path to Carbon Neutrality by 2060: Whats Needed? 2024 https://www.miragenews.com/chinas-path-to-carbon-neutrality-by-2060-whats-1181605/
  5. Ultra-high-voltage electricity transmission in China https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra-high-voltage_electricity_transmission_in_China
  6. List of HVDC projects https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HVDC_projects
  7. Zhang, D., Zhu, Z., Chen, S., Zhang, C., Lu, X., Zhang, X., Zhang, X., & Davidson, M. R. (2024). Spatially resolved land and grid model of carbon neutrality in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 121(10), e2306517121. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2306517121
  8. Zhang, Xiliang, et al. “Research on the pathway and policies for China’s energy and economy transformation toward carbon neutrality.” J. Manag. World 38 (2022): 35-66.