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Interesting developments in Chinese clean energy, which is of course of vital importance for the future of the planet, not to mention the health of the Chinese people.

China’s order to suspend coal-fired power plant approvals in some provinces will help alleviate grid congestion that has left clean-energy capacity idle, according to the World Resources Institute.

As part of efforts to prevent unnecessary competition between fossil fuels and renewables, the government will use an early warning mechanism to forecast and discourage local planning that may exacerbate coal power plant overcapacity, researchers Song Ranping and Hong Miao wrote in an April 27 blog post on the WRI’s website.

Solar capacity in the nation has soared more than sevenfold since 2012, while wind has almost doubled as China seeks to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewables and nuclear by 2020, according to Bloomberg data. The additional capacity has taxed the grid’s ability to transmit the influx of clean power.

Some of China’s renewable plants are idle as operators are unable to sell their output. The idle rate was 15 percent for wind turbines last year and about 31 percent for photovoltaics in the northwestern province of Gansu, according to data from the National Energy Administration.

Obviously these are just first steps on what should be a road of suspending all coal-fired power plants. That’s a hard row to hoe because, as the linked article later discusses, in China fossil fuels have priority over renewables, which is also mostly true in the United States. These two nations have to lead the way on changing that and both are struggling with it. But this is good, if limited, news.

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  • Michael Cain

    Good to see dispatching rules mentioned. I regard them as one of the bigger long-term problems renewable power in the US faces.

    Xcel Energy in Colorado has occasional nighttime stretches where 50% of the delivered power is from wind. This is possible because it makes deals with the wind farms to take all of their power first, throttling back Xcel’s own natural-gas or coal generation to accommodate that. That sort of arrangement is, in turn, possible because the Front Range’s isolation keeps the usual rules from applying.

    • Brian Schmidt

      “in China fossil fuels have priority over renewables, which is also mostly true in the United States.”

      What Michael is saying about Colorado somewhat contradicts what Erik says about dispatching in the US. I believe this Colorado rule is also true here in California.

      Elsewhere there’s a stranded asset issue that utilities were guaranteed a rate of return for coal plants, and so that might encourage a priority for them. Also that coal plants operate better as baseload at a steady rate rather than constantly changing power demands from them.

      It would be useful to get a better handle on this dispatching issue.

      • Michael Cain

        Perhaps I was unclear — Colorado is an exception, due to the geographic isolation of the Front Range grid. Most of the country operates under dispatch rules that favor generators who can make firm promises about the future: “Next Thursday, between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, I can deliver 450 MW of output to this point in the grid.” Large conventional hydro is pretty much the only renewable source that can make those promises.

        The economics of wind and solar don’t look nearly as good if they are put in a position where they can only sell, for example, 75% of their expected output because of intermittency.

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