"But battery storage has become cheaper over the past decade, and that could bring costs down, says Gang He, an energy-systems modeller at Stony Brook University in New York. If trends in the cost of renewables technology continue, more than 60% of China’s electricity could come from non-fossil fuels by 2030, says Gang. “That is quite encouraging.”
"But in making the shift, says Gang, China also needs to consider the well-being and economic security of some 3.5 million workers in the coal mining and power industry, as well as the many people who rely on cheap electricity and heating.
Featured papers: He, Gang, Jiang Lin, Froylan Sifuentes, Xu Liu, Nikit Abhyankar, and Amol Phadke. 2020. Rapid Cost Decrease of Renewables and Storage Accelerates the Decarbonization of China’s Power System. Nature Communications 11 (1): 2486. [pdf]
He, Gang, Jiang Lin, Ying Zhang, Wenhua Zhang, Guilherme Larangeira, Chao Zhang, Wei Peng, Manzhi Liu, and Fuqiang Yang. 2020. Enabling a Rapid and Just Transition Away from Coal in China. One Earth 3 (2): 187–94. doi: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.07.012. [pdf]
"The 2060 pledge marks the first time China and its top leader have made a long-term commitment to reducing emissions, said Gang He, a professor who studies energy and climate policy at Stony Brook University.
"This is huge given China's energy-related carbon emission accounted for about 28.8% of the global energy-related carbon emissions in 2019 and its continuing growth of [gross domestic product] and growing population of middle class," he said.
China has long argued that it should have more leeway to increase its emissions as it grows its economy. But it also strengthened the prospects for a global climate deal in 2015 when it helped demolish the so-called firewall between rich and poor nations that was once a fixture in climate talks: the idea that nations that had grown rich by releasing carbon dioxide should shoulder the burden of reducing it.
“Our paper is an effort to include in the overall discussion the employment and social justice impacts, including environmental justice, of such a transition,” said Dr. He, assistant professor in the Department of Technology and Society in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University.
“The benefits of China’s transition away from coal is huge. We estimate that the most aggressive coal-transition pathway could reduce premature death related to coal combustion by 224,000 in 2050, compared to the business-as-usual scenario,” said Dr. He. “Similarly, our maximum estimated reduction in water consumption, arguably the most vital of all resources, is about 4.3 billion m3 in 2050.”
Featured paper: He, Gang, Jiang Lin, Ying Zhang, Wenhua Zhang, Guilherme Larangeira, Chao Zhang, Wei Peng, Manzhi Liu, and Fuqiang Yang. 2020. Enabling a Rapid and Just Transition Away from Coal in China. One Earth 3 (2): 187–94. doi: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.07.012. [pdf]
“For too long relying on variable wind and solar resources for electricity generation has been considered a challenge to system operations and as having no economic advantage,” said Gang He, Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook University.
“Now rapid technological developments and falling costs in renewable energy and storage are undermining this assumption. Our paper is an effort to reveal the implications of such changes for China’s clean power transition.”
“The large-scale decarbonization of the power sector requires that several processes take place simultaneously,” explains Dr. He. “Both the renewable and storage capacity and transmission infrastructure must be scaled up quickly. The investment needed for the infrastructure transformation must be acquired and dedicated. And social and economic equity must be addressed during the transition to lower carbon power systems.”
Featured paper: He, Gang, Jiang Lin, Froylan Sifuentes, Xu Liu, Nikit Abhyankar, and Amol Phadke. 2020. Rapid Cost Decrease of Renewables and Storage Accelerates the Decarbonization of China’s Power System. Nature Communications 11 (1): 2486. [pdf]
"Gang He, a co-author of the report, told me the results of the research "are exciting and did offer me some optimism." He teaches at Stony Brook University in New York and is a visiting faculty member at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The key factor is that wind, solar and battery storage costs are plummeting to an extent that will reshape China's energy economy more than other forecasts have shown, the paper says. China produces 28 percent of the world's carbon emissions, more than any other country, and double the share in the United States.
While the paper gives us reason for optimism, He reminded me that the transformation of China's electricity sector is just one part of reducing carbon emissions. The electricity sector is responsible for roughly half of China's emissions, with the rest coming from transportation, heating and other sources.
"Climate change is such an enormous challenge that we need systematic change and integrated solutions," He said. "Not just the supply side, but also the demand side—energy efficiency, behavior change and just transition."
Gang He is an assistant professor at Stony Brook University who focuses on energy economics and climate policy. He told lawmakers at a public hearing on Long Island last week that educating people should be part of any legislation that hopes to have a meaningful impact on climate change.
“In addition to policy, technology, there are also behavior components to that. How we incentivize people to change their behavior and their lifestyle.”
The 2017 EIA Energy Conference will include a session on electrification in developing countries, which will explore barriers to and drivers of electrification. The panel will be moderated by Thad Huetteman, Team Leader of the Electricity Analysis Team. Speakers on the panel will include
Dr. Francisco De La Chesnaye, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
Dorian Mead, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Dr. Gang He, Stony Brook University
Featured paper: Gang He, David Victor. 2017. Experiences and lessons from China's success in providing electricity for all. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 122:335-338. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.03.011 [pdf]
In a 2015 study published in the journal Ecological Indicators, scientists based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California have fine-tuned a potential method for assessing Chinese “eco-cities” using 33 key indicators. So, for example, they propose to measure renewable energy usage by looking at the percentage of total energy purchased by a city that comes from renewable sources (not including nuclear).
Other “green indicators” in this study include the share of all “trips” made by public transport, and the daily average concentrations of air pollutants – plus a surprising number of social and economic variables, such as healthcare practitioners per 1,000 citizens and unemployment rates.
The study’s researchers have also reviewed other systems for assessing a city’s greenness, coming up with 14 international-level methods. But they conclude that, in essence, there is no good system. Measuring a city’s relationship to its environment, they write, is “complex” and “challenging”, and eco-cities cannot easily be compared.
Featured paper: Nan Zhou, Gang He, Christopher Williams, and David Fridley. 2015. ELITE Cities: A Low-carbon Eco-city Evaluation Tool for China. Ecological Indicators. 48:448-456. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.09.018 [pdf]
The rejections exposed cracks at the core of how carbon credits are verified in developing economies, according to a study of the Chinese wind-power industry by Gang He and Richard Morse of Stanford University. In China, there was no real way to know when the system was being gamed to gain access to the foreign cash, the study found.
He Gang, an energy and climate policy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, said ministry status had made it "more powerful on the surface … but not in the teeth and claws" needed to implement laws and regulations and offer incentives.
He said the ministry should take credit for some policymaking progress, including the upgrading of environmental standards and the disclosure of information, and using more economic incentives to curb pollution.
"But the enforcement is not positive," He said. That was partly due to the conflicting interests of various agencies - something that had not been changed by the upgrading of the ministry five years ago, he added.
The environment ministry's decisions sometimes needed to be co-ordinated with other ministries, powerful state-owned enterprises, and local governments. And the linked vested interests of polluters and governments often resulted in glaring gaps between policy and actual enforcement.
"There are four main streams in the National Energy Administration, including coal, electricity, natural gas and renewable energy," said Gang He, a Ph.D. candidate in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. "It should be noted that the coal industry is gradually being opened to market economy, while the electricity industry is still highly regulated in China." He explained that the clash represents two different types of interests.
Under the roof of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is the top policymaker in China, the Energy Administration was set up in 2008 after China -- the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter -- realized the importance of consolidating energy security issues. However, the scattered management of energy issues within the Chinese central government makes the administration's mission a difficult one.
"The structural conflict [within the government] means it's hard for the National Energy Administration to navigate among different units," said He. "Currently, the National Development and Reform Commission manages investment. The Ministry of Science and Technology focuses on technological development. The Ministry of Land and Resources deals with resources management."
He added that other energy types, such as hydroelectricity and nuclear energy, would also involve the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In 2009, China dramatically reversed its global position from coal exporter to importer. Seemingly overnight, Chinese imports accounted for nearly 15 percent of all globally traded coal, according to researchers at the Stanford Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.
"The middle kingdom's appetite for imported coal seems insatiable," wrote researchers Richard K. Morse and Gang He in a 2010 working paper, referring to China. "And the 'China Factor' appears to have ushered in a new paradigm for the global coal market."
Featured paper: Gang He, Richard Morse. China's Coal Import Behavior and Its Impacts to Global Energy Market, in: Globalization, Development and Security in Asia Volume 3: The Political Economy of Energy. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing. 2014. 69-85. doi: 10.1142/9789814566582_0032 [pdf]
In the News
“How China could be carbon neutral by mid-century”, by Smriti Mallapaty | Nature News | October 19, 2020
"Study Shows Huge Benefits of Transitioning Away from Coal in China", Stony Brook Press Release | August 21, 2020
"Surging coal use in China threatens global CO2 goals", by Benjamin Storrow | E&E News/ClimateWire | June 9, 2020
"China's Path to Clean Energy May Be Smoother than We Previously Thought", by Dan Gearino | Inside Climate News | June 4, 2020
"Study Shows Decrease in Renewable Energy Costs May Serve as an Accelerator for Clean Energy Expansion", Stony Brook Press Release | June 1, 2020
"Bill Calls For An Emissions-Free NY By 2050", by Jay Shah | WSHU Public Radio Group | February 18, 2019
"Global access to electricity has increased over the past two decades", by Michelle Bowman | Energy Information Administration | June 8, 2017
"Where is the world's greenest city?", by Hayley Birch | The Guardian | April 2, 2015
"Getting teachers to teach about China", by Lian Zi | China Daily USA | August 5, 2014
"Western companies gave China power projects a boost", by Hal Bernton | The Seattle Times | May 5, 2014
“Innovation treads line between fact, dream”, by Chen Jia | China Daily USA | November 19, 2013
“Chinese emission policy spells bad news for US coal exports”, by Charles West | China Dialogue | October 31, 2013
“China's green ministry failing in its mission”, by Jing Li | South China Morning Post | July 9, 2013
“Beijing's record smog poses health nightmare as China plans 'green' energy futures”, by Kandy Wong | E&E News | February 5, 2013
“Government conflicts could slow shale gas development”, by Kandy Wong | E&E News/ClimateWire | May 9, 2012
“Beijing Emission Cuts May Underestimate Use of Coal”, by Kandy Wong | Scientific American/ClimateWire | May 7, 2012
“Seeking a Pacific Northwest Gateway for U.S. Coal”, by Stacey Schultz | National Geographic | October 20, 2011
“As CDM Stalls, Wind Energy Drifts in China”, by Ruidan Zhang | Caixin News | April 8, 2010
“Drop in CO2 in U.S. and Power Use in China – for Now”, by Andrew Revkin | The New York Times/Dot Earth Blog | May 21, 2009