Renewables versus Fossil Fuels

Over the past year, China has ramped up its energy production and committed to becoming a net-zero emission economy by 2060. While China has led all nations with renewable energy production, at the same time has increased coal production and offset the retirements in coal capacity from the rest of the world. The increase in coal production seems to have a strong correlation with the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and pushing China to retreat to easy and reliable fossil fuel.

While moving away from fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions has been a stated target for China. When a crisis hits those ideas are often put on the backburner in favor of fast, cheap, and more reliable fuel. China is both the world’s biggest carbon emitter and the largest market for future clean power. China continues to add both wind energy and solar energy capacity, however they are still adding additional coal capacity, largely offsetting the emissions reductions.

China’s 2020 coal boom has a strong correlation stemming from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coal seems to thrive during a crisis, “We saw Japan return to coal after the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster led politicians and constituents to shy away from nuclear energy.” Now China is doing the same thing by boosting coal production to offset the impact of the pandemic, in turn offsetting renewable energy gains throughout the world.

There seem to be many reasons behind China’s coal and renewable booms, but like all countries around the world, China is actively trying to climb out of the economic depression caused by the pandemic and turning back to cheaper coal solutions is a natural reaction.  The continued growth of the coal industry in China calls into question whether they will reach their goal of becoming a net-zero emission economy by 2060 and if it is even a reasonable plan.


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