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Growth in China Wind Energy Production Exceeds Coal For First Time Ever

Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
  • Member since 2018
  • 1,651 items added with 337,004 views
  • Mar 21, 2013

By Li Shuo

Amid all the news about coal and pollution problems in China you might have missed this one: According to new statistics from the China Electricity Council, China’s wind power production actually increased more than coal power production for the first time ever in 2012.

Thermal power use, which is predominantly coal, grew by only about 0.3 percent in China during 2012, an addition of roughly 12 terawatt hours (TWh) more electricity. In contrast, wind power production expanded by about 26 TWh. This rapid expansion brings the total amount of wind power production in China to 100 TWh, surpassing China’s 98 TWh of nuclear power. The biggest increase, however, occurred in hydro power, where output grew by 196 TWh, bringing total hydro production to 864 TWh, due favorable conditions for hydro last year and increased hydro capacity. In addition, the growth of power consumption slowed down — in Chinese terms a modest increase of 5.5 percent — influenced by slower economic growth, and possibly the energy use targets for provinces set by the Chinese central government.

Coal still accounts for 79 percent of electricity production in China, but fortunately that dominance is increasingly challenged by competition from cleaner energy, as well as government policies and public concerns about air pollution. The Chinese government’s 12th five year energy plan (2011-2015) aims for coal to be reduced from 70 percent to 65 percent of energy production by 2015. In contrast, the Chinese government has ambitious targets for wind, solar, and hydro, and plans to increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 30 percent of installed electricity generating capacity by the end of 2015.

Expansion of the coal industry does not have many friends in China anymore. Major increases of coal power in recent years have created not only record climate emissions, but an unprecedented problem of air pollution and water overuse, triggering increased concern among the Chinese urban population and the central government. The record air pollution in January this year has changed the discussion about coal, and now prominent policymakers and opinion leaders, even vice-ministers, call for capping coal use, especially in the eastern populated and industrial areas of China. The air quality targets the government set for 2016 will require cutting coal pollution. Already last year the government set new strict standards for coal power emissions, requiring costly investments in filters. This year the government set new water use targets for provinces, which do not give much room for increased use of water for coal use in key provinces. Now the discussion is around controlling the total consumption of coal, in addition to emissions trading and resource taxes. The coal industry is surrounded by challenges.

There is another, very sobering side to the story, though: additions to coal power capacity, even if they have been slowing down in recent years, still stood at 50 GW last year, even more than investments in wind. So it seems that some of the total coal capacity was not used last year, due to higher coal and transport costs, and increased costs of environmental protection. The economic slowdown, and slowing growth of electricity use, has forced coal to compete with cheaper hydro and even wind. Companies will push to use that new coal capacity this year, so coal power could see some more growth this year than in 2012, unless there are strong mechanisms to cap the growth.

So while some of the conditions that helped new wind power production pass coal may not repeat this year, it is also clear that the coal industry will continue to be challenged and undermined by clean energy and by China’s new policy priorities to address the air pollution crisis.

Li Shuo is a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing.

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John Miller's picture
John Miller on Mar 21, 2013

China’s installed wind power 'design' capacity may have exceeded coal, but when you apply the normal capacity factors of 30% and 90% respectively, actual new coal power generation still exceeds their wind power by a large margin.  This, however, could be a good trend for the World’s No.1 and substantially growing source of carbon emissions since 2006.  Hopefully this new claimed interest in more expensive renewable energy will not lose momentum in the near future.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Mar 21, 2013

Actually John, this story quotes energy production (in TWh) not capacity additions. So it already accounts for differing capacity factors of wind and coal.

"Thermal power use, which is predominantly coal, grew by only about 0.3 percent in China during 2012, an addition of roughly 12 terawatt hours (TWh) more electricity. In contrast, wind power production expanded by about 26 TWh."

However, it's somewhat mislead for another reason: the reason coal output grew so little this year is because coal output was very high in China in 2011. That's because 2011 was a low precipitation year in China, and hydropower output (which supplies a big slug of China's power) was very low, with coal plants making up the shortfall. Rainfall and hydro generation rebounded substantially in 2012, up 196 TWh year-on-year, versus about 26 TWh for wind. 

So yes, growth in actual wind generation exceeded coal-fired generation this year. But that's less a sign of wind's rise than the yearly fluctuations of hydro and coal output driven by precipitation patterns.

Wind is growing fast in China, but has not yet eclipsed coal. And as you say, hopefully these trends do not lose momentum in the near future.

For more on China, see this "2012 energy report card" from Trevor Houser at Rhodium Group. A hat tip to Trevor and Robert Wilson for explaining these trends to me on Twitter yesterday.



John Miller's picture
John Miller on Mar 21, 2013

Jesse, unfortunately Mr. Romm’s post new statistics web-link comes up in some dialect of Chinese, so I had a bit of difficulty translating.  Thanks for the English version and update.  Assuming the 26 TWhr. is accurate, that means China built (26/.3=) 87 TWhr additional wind power capacity in 2012.  This represents about 20% of total U.S. wind power capacity in 2012 (following its recent historic expansion).  These data indicate that China is significantly leading us in this arena.  

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Mar 21, 2013

Indeed, China and the US both installed more than 13 GW of wind in 2012 (with China grabbing the #1 slot by a mere 76 MW). That implies an average capacity factor of about 23% for China's new wind generators.

Paul Felix Schott's picture
Paul Felix Schott on Mar 21, 2013

The Solar Industry to Skyrocket with the help of Solar Shingles.


 Energy has driven the world for over a thousand years Wind, Hydro and Solar are the oldest forms of energy giving power to all smart enough to use it.

In the last 200 years Coal, Oil and Nuclear has given energy to many worldwide and great power and wealth to only a few. At the cost of many lives in coal Mines, Oil Spills, Radiation, Cancer and Polluting the Air and Water on all of the Earth.

Unfortunately for the wicked there is not an unlimited amount of oil on earth. Just the same as the Forest Trees that clean the air and make Oxygen we breath and all living on earth need to Live.  As some in denial are not able to recognize or ever see or live with blinders on.

Doctors and Drug  ceo's have been making millions prescribing drugs to many that live near or by High polluted areas. From dirty energy that hurt breathing our lungs, water we drink and harm our children and all. That we all pay for. When all on earth need is Clean Air and Water, and Clean Cities.

Now common sense would be for all to look for a Clean Fuel Source like Wind, Hydro, Geothermal and Solar. Renewable Energy is eliminating the need for Dirty Energy Worldwide at a record pace. With SOLAR ENERGY Clearly the front runner.

    To the fear of some of the richest people on Earth. They to surprisingly are doing
something extraordinary investing in Solar Energy. After years of many of them trying to under mine it.

    Fuel that makes energy to ship goods, or make electric for homes and manufacturing. Can transform whole nations into prosperity and wealth or poverty and economic hardships for most all. Just as taxes on taxpayers has done. For over two thousand years. Making slaves of many to the wicked and unjust few. History Lesson Roman Empire, Persian Empire now OIL Empire oh sorry OPEC.

The Freedom to get your own Power from the Wind and Sun, Solar Energy has been there for years. Are Libraries and Schools should have been the first to have gone Solar and Renewable Energy. And why are they not? Churches are all over the Planet. They are going to Solar Energy.

Thank GOD for the Pioneers like John Schaeffer that Started Real Goods The first and Best catalog for Renewable Energy and Dr. Addison Bain one of NASA top Scientist and Scientist Bill Young at the FSEC Florida Solar Energy Center and Monica D. Key Lindbergh for many years wrote to legislators promoting Solar and Renewable Energy and many others.

These Pioneers helped put Wind, Solar And Renewable Energy in the Spotlight for all the World to see. One of The Greatest Scientists ever Albert Einstein Stared it with a Dream that the day would come that all the World would use Solar Energy. His many years of work with the law of the "Photoelectric Effect", and showing this to the World won him the Nobel Prize in Physics. For the "Photoelectric Effect"
Free Energy From the SUN in the heavens above.
We still do not teach this to our young.

Very soon Hybrid Vehicles and (EV's) Electric Vehicles will out number the ones that need oil and gas to go. With the ability to recharge them at home and work from the sun. 

Tesla Motors with its new Model S electric sedan, will be one of many the World will see soon. Honda, Nissan, Audi,VW, BMW and Volvo are just some of the Car Companies putting into production Electric Vehicles a EV, and many more are and many are building Electric / Hybrid Vehicles. The DeLorean Motor Company will be putting into production by 2013 a DMC-EV Electric DeLorean, that will have a body and power plant that will last you a life time. Just think you can recharge them at home and work free from the sun Solar Energy.

The Lord's Little Helper
Paul Felix Schott

Now to own a car that will never rust way and runs on the power from the sun that's the one for me. Very soon most all on earth will be able to get energy by recharging from the sun and wind.

Cities that want to be Clean many of them are putting in recharging stations in their heart of their downtown of their city all over the Planet Earth. Many Thanks mostly to Scientist Bill Young and his team at FSEC for their many years of work at this..

GOD Bless You Professor Takashi Ohira and your team for the good work they are doing. To promote Clean Cities with Clean Transportation that will let some drive all day without having to stop to recharge. As Neil Armstrong would say one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.  Just one step closer to the World being powered be the Sun Solar Energy.
Going Solar

Germany, Denmark, Australia, Sweden, Norway, India, Nepal, Ttbet and Israeli clearly a leader in Solar companies and Renewable Energy is helping many World Wide and a long list of Nations Going Solar even Iran with its Archimedes Tower. At its Shiraz Solar Power Plant Iran and all the Oil Nations on Earth know the World is going to SOLAR Energy.

Going Geothermal

Iceland, Philippines, Kenya.....and more then 50 other Countries.

Wind Energy in use

More then 75 Countries

Albert Einstein's Dream coming true
The Earth Powered By SOLAR ENERGY.

GOD Bless
all that Spot Light and use Solar Energy.

Lund's picture
Lund on Mar 21, 2013

You can't conclude that so simple, Jesse.

The new 13 GW capacity of 2012 was not installed on 1st January 2012, but through the whole year, probably most of it late at the year, so a substantial part of the increased production was actually produced by the turbines, installed in late 2011.

You also have to take into account the changes of wind resources, year to year.

Best regards, Søren Lund


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 22, 2013

And The Hype Marches On.

Mr. Romm could have said quite plainly that China added more Wind Power in 2012 than the Coal Power it added.

But No! that would have been too straight forward,ordinary, and too honest. Instead he has to Obfuscate the Headline and confuse casual readers as to what was actually happening by saying, 

China Wind Energy Production Exceeds Coal For First Time Ever.

One more reason to gloss over and discount Mr. Romm's posts.

Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Mar 22, 2013

Very misleading headline. There was a similar one running in the media for about two months, but that was for the USA. They were trying to say that ther growth exceeded that of natural gas. Desperate.

China is shifting away from coal to cleaner sources. Mainly natural gas. It is in their five year plan. They are building a great infrastructure including many times more LNG and CNG stations than we have. They mandate CNG cabs and buses in some large cities. We are way behind most nations in utilizing natural gas, yet have much lower prices! It must be a national priority to get off of coal, diesel and gasoline. If we do not use this fuel it will be exported over the next twenty years. By then everyone will have  it due to many offshore finds, their own domestic fracking, biogas, coal seam gas, methane hydrates, etc.

We suffer from vast amounts of coal burned all over Asia, so it is expedient for us to help meet their needs for natural gas.

Ron Wagner

ronwagnersrants . blogspot . com

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Mar 22, 2013

Thanks to Ronald, Paul and others for catching this headline. It was copied from the original post at Climate Progress, but it was our fault for not catching and correcting it here.

You are all correct to note that it was the annual growth in wind energy output that exceeded the annual growth in coal output in China for the first time. Now as my comments below note, there are also some contributing circumstances that may make this less noteworthy than it first appears... 

Thanks for the keen eye from our readers here. Nothing slips past you all! And we're all better for it. 


Jesse Jenkins

Digital Community Strategist,

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Mar 22, 2013

Fair point Søren. Thanks.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 23, 2013


Before calling the capacity factors of UK wind farms dismal, you should perhaps first check what they actually are. You may be surprised to find that they have never been 0.2.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 23, 2013


I provided you with a link to the UK government website showing the official statistics for UK wind farm load factors. And here is the link once again.

Can you please provide evidence that UK wind farms were ever below 0.2? Because there appears to be not a single piece of evidence to show that they were.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 23, 2013


Twice I have linked to the UK government's official statistics for wind farm load factor and both times you have replied you have simply ignored them. The official data makes it totally clear that load factors have never been 20%.

You also are drawing completely inaccurate conclusions from that data. About 2 GW of UK wind farms is not visible to the national grid, so is excluded from this data. So you need to factor that in. However all you need to do is read the official UK stats to realise you are incorrect. 


You also ha

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 23, 2013

You obviously haven't read nor understood the discussions here. The headline of this post is a fraud. China is not supplanting or displacing coal with wind as implied.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 23, 2013


I do not know what IWT stands for. Tell me and I will see if I know where the stats are. 

I K's picture
I K on Mar 23, 2013

China demand will be in the region of 10,000 TWh of eletricity anually by 2025.
Where will she get the EXTRA 4,500 TWh from

All the wind farms in the world plus all the solar panels in the world combined do not produce anything close to that.

Hell, all the nuclear power stations, all the wind farms and all the solar PV in the world today do not produce that much eletricity.....

To think coal use will go down from here in china is crazy, she has no choice but to use more coal to provide the additional 4,500 TWh she will need over the next 10 years

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