Xinyu Chen, a professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, discussed the current state and future of China’s carbon neutral transition in a virtual lecture Wednesday morning.
Chen’s lecture was a part of a research seminar through the Harvard-China Project — where he is a research fellow studying renewable energy and power systems — and focused on the challenges posed by China’s efforts to transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy use.
Chen began the lecture with a question regarding whether the Chinese government’s policy could facilitate a transition to renewable energy.
“Is there a policy sufficiency problem — meaning that if the power market reform can fully support the transition and can fully incentivize the transition or not?” Chen said. “That’s the thing. That is a really open topic for everyone in China now.”
To answer this question, Chen described how China’s current energy market structure has led to an energy crisis in the nation.
“The strict carbon reduction policy and also the regulated power sector pricing led to a very severe shortage in electricity that started from 2021,” Chen said.
According to Chen, cities in China — especially those along the Yangtze River like Shanghai — continued to experience power shortages in 2022.
Chen also addressed China’s plans to increase renewable energy use in the future through investment, solar generation, and storage as a part of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, an initiative to drive economic and social development.
Chen highlighted the investments provincial governments have made for the “carbon neutral transition.”
“Aggregating all the provincial investment plans so that in the five year plan to investment is all already exceeding the 1200 gigawatt commitment by President Xi, so this is the pace that is picked up from the local governments,” Chen said.
When asked an audience question about the weaknesses in China’s renewable energy plan, Chen said he believes “ the Chinese government plan is going towards a really good direction.”
“I think the offshore wind plan actually needs more adjustments and we have a paper coming out pretty soon,” he added.
In an interview following the event, Chen commented on the policies needed most to create a sustainable energy market in China.
“I think the first things for the power market reform, we need a market system — not a single market — there’s a market system with a wholesale market capacity market, retail market and the renewable policies, all implemented together to really make it work,” Chen said. “And without any piece, the market will not function as desired.”
Chen also reflected on his time working with the Harvard-China Project .
“It actually is a really fascinating journey and we have been working at Harvard-China Project for many, many years,” he said. “And along the way, a lot of original research has been conducted, and I think some of the research is really impactful in the Chinese government.”