China to Ramp Up Nuclear Power, Renewables

According to reports in the Chinese media, China’s central government is planning to reorient the nation’s energy policy to expedite the construction of new, safer, nuclear power plants and boost the production of green energy.

The Chinese National Energy Commission released a statement on Sunday laying out the new direction. China will seek to reform its energy production and consumption to diversify its power sector and reduce emissions from coal plants. New projects will include hydropower stations, wind and solar farms, and new ultra-high voltage transmission lines to move power from generation sources in the west to the power-hungry east.

“These energy projects can ensure stable economic growth and increase China’s capability to safeguard energy security,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in the statement.

China has 28 nuclear reactors under construction, according to the World Nuclear Association, but approval of new nuclear power plants was slowed following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011. Only 2.1 GW of new capacity was approved in 2013, but 8.6 GW of new plants are slated for approval this year. The announcement was a sign that the post-Fukushima “pause” appears to be over. The country currently gets a miniscule 1.2% of its energy from nuclear power, a total the central government intends to increase dramatically.

The new transmission lines, which will carry 1,000 kV AC or 800 kV DC, are intended to avoid the construction of new coal plants in the east. Much of China’s wind capacity is far from its population centers, and despite a massive build-out in recent years, getting that electricity to market has proved challenging. Five such lines have been completed, with another eight in the pipeline.

The country will also increase production of electric vehicles and upgrade emissions controls at its most polluting plants. Pollution from coal-fired plants has been a major problem in recent years, causing some new coal plants to be canceled despite the need for power. While China is continuing to build new coal capacity, its share of the overall mix is expected to decline as older plants are shut down in favor of cleaner and more efficient projects.

China’s drive to develop its shale gas resources will also get a boost. Observers have singled out centralization and excessive bureaucracy in the nation’s oil and gas sector as one problem holding back China’s shale gas development. In the latest announcement, the National Energy Commission promised to open up energy exploration and encourage new forms of investment. The sector is currently dominated by the three national oil companies, but there has been movement this year toward mixed ownership and independent exploration that experts believe is essential for China’s shale resources to be fully exploited.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).