Monolithic offshore project manifests China's resolve in hitting carbon targets
Standing in the vast ocean, the world's first 16-megawatt wind turbine, installed off the coast of Fujian province, looks small from a distance, but its capabilities go far beyond the imaginations of many.
"The power generated by such a turbine in a year is enough to meet the annual electricity consumption of a town with a population of 100,000, including consumption for domestic use and production," said Wang Zhongying, head of the Energy Research Institute at the Academy of Macroeconomic Research.
According to the China Three Gorges Corporation, which operates the wind farm, the three blades of the wind turbine, each 123 meters long, can sweep an area of approximately 50,000 square meters — the size of seven standard soccer fields — per rotation.
On July 19, the Fujian farm's first such turbine connected to the grid began generating electricity.
For Wang, the massive turbine is a manifestation of China's significant progress in renewable energy development over the decades. In 1998, China was only able to produce wind turbines with a capacity of 600 kilowatts, and by 2020 it was 10 MW, he said.
Greater progress is in the pipeline, according to Wang. The country's first 18-MW wind turbine is expected to roll off the production line by the end of the year, he noted.
He also cited numbers to showcase the country's soaring installed capacities for wind and solar energies in the past 10 years.
China saw its installed capacity for wind power climb to 365 million kW last year, compared with 60 million kW in 2012. The installed capacity for solar energy in China stood at 393 million kW last year, 60 times that of 10 years earlier, he said.
"China has stepped into a new era that features an annual net increase of 100 million kW of installed capacity for green (wind and solar) energy," he stressed, adding, that wind and solar energy development in China is becoming an "unstoppable" trend.
"From this perspective, I think there is no problem at all for China to honor its commitments to the world," he said, referring to the country's aims of peaking carbon dioxide emissions before the end of this decade and becoming carbon neutral before 2060.
Liu Yanhua, honorary director of China's national committee of experts on climate change, also voiced his confidence that the robust development of renewable energy will help China realize its climate targets on time.
Renewable energy now generates over 30 percent of all electricity in China. "This is significant progress," he said.
Liu cited multiple studies from international institutions to show the achievement China has made in developing renewables.
A report from the International Energy Agency last year, for example, said China's global share in all the key manufacturing stages of solar panels exceeds 80 percent, as well as for key elements including polysilicon and wafers.
"We have high expectations on renewable energy," he said, adding he believes China will fulfill its goal of increasing the proportion of renewable energy in the country's energy consumption mix to over 80 percent by 2060.
At a news conference in Beijing shortly before he wrapped up his four-day visit to China in July, the United States Presidential Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, acknowledged the progress China has made in renewable energy development, though he also expressed his hope to see China shift from coal dependency faster.
Wang, however, emphasized that the remarkable progress in renewable energy development doesn't necessarily mean China will be able to hit its climate targets easily. The country is confronted with challenges from both its national conditions and international landscape to realize the goals, he said.
He was endorsed by Zhang Haibin, a professor from Peking University's School of International Studies and the Institute of Carbon Neutrality.
It requires painstaking efforts for China to realize carbon neutrality, Zhang stressed.
Its carbon intensity — carbon emissions per unit of GDP — is 130 percent of the global average and two to three times that of European countries and the U.S., he said.
The cost for China's low-carbon transition will be much higher, because the country, which is still in rapid industrialization, is generally at the mid- and low-end of global industrial chains that have high emissions, he continued.
Achieving carbon neutrality will mean a broad, profound and systemic socioeconomic transformation. It concerns redistribution of interests and resources as well, which is an "extremely complicated" process for any nation, he said.
The process will be especially tough for China, an economy with a population of 1.4 billion, he added.
Due to geopolitical conflicts, he said, the instability and uncertainty of the international landscape may continue to rise, posing more challenges for China's climate actions.
"Under the current international circumstances, however, there is a severe trust deficit between major countries. This makes it difficult for China to carry out climate cooperation," he said.