China Wind Power Growth Beat Coal In 2012

We’ve often included a dash of cold water with our reports on Chinese renewable energy development because even as all kinds of good stuff has been happening, the country has been ratcheting up its use of coal. But here’s something impressive any way you slice it: A new report says that in 2012, wind power production grew more than coal power production.

The information is contained in a report from the China Electricity Council, and was surfaced this morning by Beijing-based Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Li Shuo on the Climate Progress website.

According to the report, wind power production – which we already knew was rising fast in China – grew by 26 terawatt-hours, more than double the 12 TWh increase in thermal power (almost all coal, according to Shuo).

Coal use had been rising incredibly quickly in China in the past decade, so this virtual halt is a bit surprising. But the Climate Progress report notes that by Chinese standards, power consumption overall grew rather modestly in China in 2012, just 5.5 percent.  In addition, the report noted, hydropower contributed vastly more power in 2012, with lots of water allowing production to jump 196 TWh to 863 TWh.

The good news is that, despite some growth issues with its wind industry (similar to what solar has been experiencing), China is on course to bring a lot more wind online in the next several years, according to Earth Policy Institute:

Wind developers connected 19,000 megawatts of wind power capacity to the grid during 2011 and 2012, and they are expected to add nearly this much in 2013 alone. An oft-cited problem for China’s wind energy sector has been the inability of the country’s underdeveloped electrical grid to fully accommodate fast-multiplying wind turbines in remote, wind-rich areas. Recent efforts to expand and upgrade the grid have improved the situation: by the end of 2012, 80 percent of China’s estimated 75,600 megawatts of wind capacity were grid-connected.

China is also increasing the pace of solar installation, in part to help its troubled domestic industry but also in answer to the dreadful smog problem that reached epic levels this past January.

All that said, it’s still fitting to wonder how much of a difference this can make given that according to a World Resources Institute report, China has some 363 new large coal plants planned. There’s been some hope that might not come to pass — maybe that hope isn’t without some foundation.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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