China is closer than expected to a clean energy transition. In a few years, the majority of China’s solar energy will be cheaper than coal.
According to a report issued jointly by Harvard, Tsinghua, Renmin and Nankai Universities, China, the planet’s chief emitter, is on track to achieve the remarkable feat by 2023.
In a statement released shortly after the announcement, co-author of the study, Xi Lu, said that subsidy-free solar energy is cheaper than coal in most parts of the country and that the current trend towards pivoting away from coal is set to continue.
The Chinese-US report, published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that 75% of the nation already has access to cheaper solar power.
By 2060, solar power could potentially power 43% of China, with the price of one kilowatt hour costing roughly two and a half cents. This is half the price of coal-powered energy in 2019 and one quarter of the current cost of energy in the US.
The projection is far more promising than previously speculated but online media publication The Hill points out that China has aggressively pursued solar photovoltaic energy projects in the last two years, accounting for nearly one-third of global production.
A significant factor in China’s rapid solar rollout is the sharp decline in “cost of capital” to the solar industry. Between 2011 and 2018 costs fell 63%, according to The Hill.
The development of solar technologies and battery storage, as well as an increased understanding of how to properly integrate solar energy into existing grids, have all contributed towards falling prices.
Michael McElroy, one of the study’s authors, said the report highlighted a “crucial energy transition point”, where solar becomes a more attractive grid-compatible option.
Developing a reliable grid in China is complicated by the nation’s unique geography. The majority of China’s solar farms are located in the sunny northern regions, while the population is densest far to the south.
Storage of harnessed solar energy has traditionally posed a problem too. Standard grid systems struggle to cope with the dynamic nature of solar power. While the energy is cheaper, this is offset by constantly evolving, expensive batteries. However, the report found that from 2020, China had the “technical potential” to provide twice the national energy requirements.
China’s decline in coal usage is an important climate change issue, according to many environmentalists. Next month, the world’s leaders will meet in Scotland at the global climate summit.