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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Xiaowen Zeng

Renewable Energy in China. Can the Country Live on its Own Renewable Sources?

Xiaowen Zeng

Renewable Energy in China.  Can the Country Live on its Own Renewable Sources?


China's energy consumption is growing rapidly with its remarkable economy growth. Over the last decade, primary energy use in the nation has more than doubled while its coal-dependent pattern has not seen any significant change. Now China has exceeded the US and become the world's No.1 CO2 emitter. As the biggest developing, China is more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Meanwhile other environmental problems arising from massive burning of fossil fuels such as acid rain and air pollution have put the country into a dilemma and severely constrain the nation's further social and economic development.


To tackle these problems, the Chinese government has put forward many policies and regulations in the last decades to promote the use of renewable energy. The Renewable Energy Law enacted in 2005 was a milestone in China's renewable energy development history. It has established the importance of renewable energy in China's national energy strategy and removed market barriers for developing these renewables. A target of 15% energy coming from renewables by 2020 was set in the follow-up renewable development plan.


As renewable energy has become increasingly important in China, some distinct questions need to be answered: how much renewables does China have, are they abundant enough to allow the country to live on its own renewables?


This study aims to investigate the potentials of different renewable energy, including onshore and offshore wind, solar hot water, solar PV, solar farm, biomass and hydroelectricity. Professor David Mackay's approaches of estimating renewables are adopted while some modifications are made to better suit China's situation. All renewable potentials are expressed in the same unit of kWh per day per person.  The report concludes that although renewable energy is very rich in the country, it is almost impossible for the nation to live on its own renewables because the consumption will go a lot higher than the actual delivered renewable energy. In order to live more sustainably, the country needs to increase its clean energy supply such as nuclear and clean coal as well as reduce its energy consumption significantly. And every single aspect of these efforts needs to be big.