Modeling China’s Path to 2060 Carbon Neutrality, with Yu Sha and Ryna Cui

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In this episode, we’re going to take a deep dive on modeling China’s long-term, carbon-neutral energy future with Yu Sha and Ryna Cui of the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability. Dr. Yu and Dr. Cui co-lead the China Program at CGS.

Dr. Ryna Cui is an expert in global coal transition and climate and energy policies in China. Her research focuses on climate change mitigation, and sustainable energy transition, and she is experienced in global and national integrated assessment modeling of China, India and the United States. She is currently serving as a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report on the topic of global coal transition.

Dr. Sha Yu is an expert in clean energy, finance, and economic modeling. She leads the development of GCAM-China and engagement on China’s long-term strategies and transition pathways. She has over 10 years of experience working on policy development and implementation in China at the national, provincial, and local levels. Dr. Yu is also a leading expert on China integrated assessment modeling and analysis. She also leads projects in other developing countries, such as India and Vietnam.

This is a pretty data-intensive episode. Here are some time stamps and quick notes:

2:30 About the GCAM model, it's main advantages and uses.

3:50 Using the GCAM model to identify and prioritize which coal plants should be closed early.

6:10 Which regions would see the most early retirements under the model.

6:46 The history and flaws in China's Risk Alert system (traffic light system) for provinces approving new coal plants.

10:25 The Five Strategies, which are: (1) Promoting sustainable demand while restructuring the economy. (2) Decarbonizing electricity generation and shifting electricity system to a more diverse system, based mainly on renewables but supplemented by nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and storage). (3) Electrification of major energy consuming sectors such as transport and buildings. (4) For hard-to-electrify sectors or technologies, switch to low-carbon biofuels or other low-carbon fuels. (5) Negative emissions including carbon capture and land use changes to cover emissions from hard-to-decarbonize fields.

12:25 The key graph (page 2 of this PDF: https://cgs.umd.edu/sites/default/files/2020-09/5%20Strategies_China%202060_english.pdf). Renewables accounts for 70% of primary energy in 2050, remainder comes from nuclear and CCS. Similarly, over 70% of electricity comes from RE.

14:00 Estimated installed solar in 2050 of 2500-3500 GW and for wind 1500-2500 GW, so around 10x present installation figures. Wide range depends on economics of alternatives as well as demand growth, which in turn depends on efficiency measures and other changes.

16:10 Carbon storage - which regions have potential storage sites (oil and gas reservoirs, aquifers, offshore) and what variables determine storage economics? Which sectors best for capture? The importance of transportation distance as a variable in CCS economics.

18:05 Transport: Harder to decarbonize because it is heterogeneous. Light-duty vehicles can be electrified fairly quickly. Other transport subsectors may peak emissions later.

19:04 Buildings sector - not hard to decarbonize based on technology, but faces implementation challenges, especially for retrofit. Needs more policy incentives.

20:10 Nuclear: Model assumes nuclear restricted to coastal locations, but still finds quite significant growth of nuclear.

20:40 How are various models used by policy makers? Models provide evidence to base policy decisions on, but it should be a two-way conversation. Models can also help financial players evaluate risks given trends and policies.

22:37 Top recommendations: (1) No new coal. (2) Power market reform / economic dispatch. (3) Cross-sectoral planning instead of just looking within sectors, like just planning EVs. (4) Including non-CO2 in carbon neutrality target, since otherwise difficult to control emissions in methane and agriculture. (5) New growth model for coal-dependent regions. (6) Integrate fiscal policies at provincial and national level, and within financial sector, with low-carbon transition.

25:48 How you got started in energy modeling.

For further reading:

https://chinadialogue.net/en/climate/chinas-2060-carbon-neutrality-target-opportunities-and-challenges/

https://cgs.umd.edu/research-impact/publications/implications-continued-coal-builds-14th-five-year-plan-china-eng

https://cgs.umd.edu/research-impact/publications/five-strategies-achieve-chinas-2060-carbon-neutrality-goal-en

https://cgs.umd.edu/research-impact/publications/high-ambition-coal-phaseout-china-feasible-strategies-through

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