Rethinking Grid Integration and Carbon Neutrality in China

Prospects for a massive renewable power expansion to achieve carbon neutrality in China and beyond

In achieving the goal of carbon neutrality in China, the problem is no longer the cost or feasibility of sufficient renewable generation, but rather the challenges it introduces into the grid because of its variability. There are many uncertainties about pathways to mid-century carbon neutrality in all major emitting nations, but one fundamental aspect is certain: they will require massive expansions of wind and solar power to displace coal- and gas-fired power.

China Environment News recently reported on research by a Chinese-US team that found solar energy could provide 43% of China’s electricity demands in 2060 at less than one third of current costs per kilowatt-hour (see ‘China’s Development of a Carbon-Neutral Electricity System’ )

Now a similar team of Chinese-American researchers have developed a cross-sector, high-resolution model to find the best and most cost-effective way for China’s power system to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The research team from China’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology, the Tsinghua University and America’s Harvard University, developed a comprehensive strategy moving beyond conventional planning assumptions to include large offshore wind generation, power storage, electric vehicles, green hydrogen production, and expanded transmission to balance power on a national basis can sharply reduce costs of integrating renewable power into the grid.

The results demonstrate that realizing the carbon neutrality of China’s power system by 2050 is not only feasible but need not necessarily cost more than reliance on coal- and gas-fired power, with no carbon constraints at all, to meet future electricity demands.

This is an excellent article for non-specialist readers who wish to understand the complexities and costs for grid integration of solar and wind renewable energy to achieve carbon neutrality in China, and the benefits of: UHV transmission; power storage; green hydrogen production, and electric vehicles (EVs) could, and how these could all play major roles in easing grid integration.

Follow this link to: A RESEARCH BRIEF FOR NON-SPECIALISTS, sponsored by the Energy Foundation China.

Below is a summary of the key findings from the study.

The study was supported by Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST)-State Grid Future of Grid Institute; National Science Foundation of China; the Energy Foundation China; and the Harvard Global Institute, Harvard University.


Published paperJoule, Volume 5, Issue 10, 20 October 2021, Pages 2715-2741

Research Brief for Non-specialists – October 2021