Nation moves ahead with ambitious climate goals
On Nov 9, a nuclear power project was launched in Haiyang, Shandong province, making it the first city in China to provide carbon-free winter heating capable of preventing 180,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
Long list of mitigation efforts announced in the past year
Just over two weeks later, the first alkaline water electrolyzer jointly developed by China Huaneng Group and Cockerill Jingli Hydrogen rolled off the production line in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The electrolyzer boasts the highest single-unit hydrogen production capacity of its kind in the world.
On Nov 30, China Petroleum and Chemical Corp, or Sinopec, the world's largest refiner by volume, started work in Kuqa, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on the world's largest green hydrogen plant, which will be powered entirely by solar energy. The project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 485,000 tons annually after it becomes operational next year.
These are just three examples from a long list of climate mitigation measures that hit the headlines throughout the past year.
Addressing the Climate Ambition Summit in December, President Xi Jinping said, "China always honors its commitments" and will "take solid steps" to implement its climate targets. Last year witnessed numerous actions in this respect from the government and enterprises.
The global climate crisis loomed larger as extreme weather events wreaked havoc worldwide. In July, for example, devastating floods left hundreds dead and missing in China and many nations in Europe.
At about the same time, a vast area of the western United States and Canada experienced a heat wave on a scale thought to occur only once in 1,000 years.
As delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in November, many dubbed the gathering "the last chance for humanity". It was also an opportunity to assess how nations had followed up their climate pledges with concrete policies and action.
The summit took place more than a year after China announced its ambitious targets to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, and the nation drafted supporting policies and set timelines for these goals. Such action was stressed by the nation's special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua on Nov 6 when he met the media in Glasgow.
On Oct 24, the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, the nation's Cabinet, unveiled a master guideline for the work needed to achieve these targets, laying out specific goals and measures for the coming decades.
China aims to gradually increase its share of non-fossil energy consumption to about 20 percent by 2025, around 25 percent by 2030, and more than 80 percent by 2060. The guideline states, "We are firmly committed to a green, low-carbon and high-quality development path that gives primacy to ecological civilization."
Ecological civilization is a concept promoted by President Xi for balanced and sustainable development featuring the harmonious coexistence of mankind and nature.
According to a media release from the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner, the guideline is the overarching document dubbed "1" in China's "1+N" policy system for its climate targets. The "N" refers to specific plans from different sectors to achieve these targets.
"Together with an action plan for peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030, the document constitutes the country's top-level design that will go all the way through the two stages of carbon peaking and neutrality," said the commission, where the office of a central leading group on work for the climate targets is based.
The action plan unveiled in late October outlines key tasks to enable the nation's carbon dioxide emissions to peak before 2030, including promoting green and low-carbon transportation, advancing a circular economy and supporting technological innovation.
According to the plan, China will develop a unified and standardized carbon emissions statistical accounting system, improve laws, regulations and standards, optimize economic policies, and establish sound market mechanisms as part of its efforts to enhance policy support for its climate goals.
The NDRC said the office of the leading group is accelerating its work on the policy system.
Multiple documents are expected to smoothly connect"1+N" with "clear targets, rationally distributed tasks and effective measures", it said.
Even though there is still work to be done, including putting many supporting measures in place, numerous enterprises, both State-owned and private, have already taken action. Many important climate mitigation measures have been introduced by companies that are traditionally heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
For example, Sinopec, with an annual hydrogen production capacity of about 3.9 million tons, has vowed to invest more in this gas to facilitate the nation's transition to sustainable energy.
The Sinopec project in Kuqa is not only the world's largest green hydrogen plant, but also China's first 10,000-ton solar-generated green hydrogen demonstration project. With a total investment of some 3 billion yuan ($470 million), it is expected to produce 20,000 tons of green hydrogen a year after becoming operational.
According to the National Energy Administration, as of the end of October, installed capacity for renewable energy in China reached 1 billion kilowatts, a proportion of 43.5 percent.
However, the intermittent nature of new energy has long been a factor hindering its use on a large scale. Manufacturing hydrogen close to where renewable energy is generated is considered one of the solutions to this problem.
Ma Yongsheng, Sinopec's president, said hydrogen is one form of clean energy with a big development potential, and the company will further invest in hydrogen while expanding other new energy businesses during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period.
Sinopec plans to invest 30 billion yuan in hydrogen-related businesses during this time, including refueling stations and storage facilities. In addition to 1,000 hydrogen refueling locations, the company plans to build 5,000 charging and battery exchange stations and 7,000 distributed photovoltaic power generation facilities.
Luo Zuoxian, head of intelligence and research at the Sinopec Economics and Development Research Institute, said the green hydrogen industry involves several fields, including production, supply, storage and sales. While it is still in the initial stages in China, the nation needs to accumulate more experience for future large-scale development.
Thanks to technological advances, the cost of green hydrogen, or renewable-based hydrogen, will be further reduced, Luo said.
Together with Sinopec, China's two other major oil and gas companies, China National Petroleum Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corp, or CNOOC, are also stepping up efforts to transform themselves into greener energy businesses.
China National Petroleum Corp, the country's largest oil and gas company, has intensified its solar, wind and hydrogen business. It said it will have four refueling stations to supply 816 hydrogen-powered vehicles for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
CNOOC, the nation's leading offshore oil and gas driller, aims to place 5 percent to 10 percent of its total investment in solar and wind energy each year to ensure these sectors achieve major breakthroughs from 2021 to 2025.
Wang Dongjin, chairman of CNOOC, said that the offshore wind sector aligns with the company's overall business. CNOOC can apply its resources in offshore engineering and experience in such operations, and the company plans to intensify its new energy business by focusing on offshore wind power.
CNOOC's first wind turbines, located off the coast of Jiangsu, started production by the end of last year, with a total installed capacity of 300 megawatts.
Buildings are one of the main contributors to heat-trapping gas emissions in China, which has taken a series of actions to transform them into sources of renewable energy with the help of Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV.
LONGi Green Energy Technology, a leading Chinese manufacturer of monocrystalline silicon photovoltaic products, has invested in manufacturers of building materials to jointly make roofs and curtain walls that generate electricity. Many local governments, including those in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, have introduced policies to promote BIPV in the next three to five years.
Unlike positioning solar panels on the roofs of buildings to create power-generating areas, BIPV replaces traditional construction elements with solar-incorporated modules that reduce installation time.
Hangergy, which is based in Beijing, launched its BIPV roof, the Hantile, in 2017. Solar company Risen Energy said it is also developing numerous BIPV products, as the domestic market is expected to grow with the introduction of new rules and subsidies to expand renewable and clean energy sources to meet the ambitious climate goals.
Liu Sixuan, chief engineer for new energy buildings at LONGi, said rooftop solar facilities will encourage sectors that involve BIPV, adding that the active participation of companies and the gradual reduction of costs have provided momentum.
BIPV is viewed as a ticket to rapid development as the government strives to achieve its climate targets, she added.