September 24, 2013 Leave a comment
China’s deployment of renewable electricity generation – starting with hydropower, then wind, and now biomass and solar – is massive. China leads the world in installed renewable energy capacity (both including and excluding hydro) and has sustained annual wind additions in excess of 10 gigawatts (10 GW) for four straight years. Half of the hydropower installed last year was in China. And solar and biomass-fired electricity are expected to grow ten-fold over the period 2010-2020. Most striking amidst all these impressive accomplishments has been the Chinese government’s seemingly unwavering financial support for renewable energy generators even as other countries scale back or restructure similar support programs.
The balance sheets of the central renewable energy fund are changing, however. Supplied primarily through a fixed surcharge on all electricity purchases, it has faced increasing shortfalls in recent years as renewable growth picked up, which may have contributed to late or non-payment to generators. Especially as more costly solar comes online, both the revenue streams and subsidy outlays to generators will require difficult modifications to keep the fund solvent. More broadly, investment decisions are largely influenced by the historically high penetration of state-owned energy companies in the renewables sector, which have responsibilities to the state besides turning a profit.
Recognizing these challenges of solvency and efficiency, the central government is facing a crossroads in its policy support for renewable sector, of which one possible approach would be migrating to a hybrid system of generation subsidies coupled with mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS). This fourth and final post in the Transforming China’s Grid series looks out to 2020 at how China’s renewable energy policies may evolve and how they must evolve to ensure strong growth in the share of renewable energy in the power mix.
Policy support to date
Investment in renewable energy has risen steadily in China over the last decade, with the wind and solar sectors hitting a record $68 billion in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). These sums – together with massive state-led investments in hydropower – have translated into a surge of renewable energy capacity, which since 2006 included annual wind capacity additions of 10-15 GW and a near doubling of hydropower (see graph). Renewables now provide more than a quarter of China’s electricity generating capacity.