More nuclear power in China

The World Nuclear Association released a report on China’s electricity generating plans recently. The report – of which this is an extract – states that most of mainland China’s electricity is produced from fossil fuels, predominantly from coal – 73% in 2015. Two large hydro projects are recent additions: Three Gorges of 18,2 GWe and Yellow River of 15,8 GWe. Wind capacity in 2015 was 8,6% of total but delivering only 3,3% of the electricity. China’s energy demand has entered a “new normal” phase including environmental protection, and to address this, vigorous development of nuclear power is required. By 2030 nuclear capacity will be 120 to 150 GWe, and nuclear will provide 8 to 10% of China’s electricity.

This an extract from the World Nuclear Association’s report. Click here to read the full report

Rapid growth in demand has given rise to power shortages, and the reliance on fossil fuels has led to much air pollution. The economic loss due to pollution is put by the World Bank at almost 6% of GDP,1 and the new leadership from March 2013 has prioritised this. Chronic and widespread smog in the east of the country is attributed to coal burning.

Official measurements of fine particles in the air measuring less than 2,5 µm, which pose the greatest health risk, rose to a record 993 µg/m3 in Beijing on 12 January 2013, compared with World Health Organisation guidelines of no higher than 25.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that since 2012, China has been the country with the largest installed power capacity, and it has increased this by 14% since then to reach 1245 GWe in 2014, or 21% of global capacity, slightly ahead of the United States (20%). The age structures of the power plants in these two countries differ remarkably: in China almost 70% (865 GWe) was built within the last decade, whereas in the United States half of the fleet (580 GWe) was over 30 years old.

In August 2013 the State Council said that China should reduce its carbon emissions by 40 to 45% by 2020 from 2005 levels and would aim to boost renewable energy to 15% of its total primary energy consumption by 2020. In 2012 China was the world’s largest source of carbon emissions: 2626 MtC (9,64 Gt CO2), and its increment that year comprised about 70% of world total increase. In March 2014 the Chinese premier said that the government was declaring “war on pollution” and would accelerate closing coal-fired power stations.

In November 2014 the premier announced that China intended about 20% of its primary energy consumption to be from non-fossil fuels by 2030, at which time it intended its peak of CO2 emissions to occur. This 20% target is part of the 13th five-year plan and was reiterated by the president at the Paris climate change conference in December 2015, along with reducing CO2 emissions by 60 to 65% from 2005 levels by 2030.

This means that China’s energy growth has entered a “new normal” phase including environmental protection, and to address this, vigorous development of nuclear power is required. By 2030 nuclear capacity will be 120 to 150 GWe, and nuclear will provide 8 to 10% of electricity.

In the 13th five-year plan for power production announced by the NEA in November 2016, by 2020 coal capacity will be limited to 1100 GWe by cancelling and postponing about 150 GWe of projects. Gas in 2020 is projected at 110 GWe, hydro 340 GWe, wind 210 GWe, and solar 110 GWe of which distributed PV is to be 60 GWe. Nuclear’s 58 GWe was reiterated for 2020. Non-fossil 770 GWe will then produce 15% of electricity.

The February 2015 edition of the BP Energy Outlook 2035 projects that by 2035 China becomes the world’s largest energy importer, overtaking Europe, as import dependence rises from 15 to 23%. China’s energy production rises by 47% while consumption grows by 60%. China’s fossil fuel output continues to rise with increases in natural gas (+200%) and coal (+19%) more than offsetting declines in oil (-3%).

China’s CO2 emissions increase by 37% and by 2035 will account for 30% of world total with per capita emissions surpassing the OECD by 2035.The distribution of energy resources relative to demand poses some challenges, notably for north-south coal transport and east-west power transmission.

Electricity demand has been slowing from over 14% pa in 2010, corresponding with a 10% growth in GDP, according to the China Electricity Council. Three-quarters of this was in industry. In 2015 electricity demand growth was only 0,5%, corresponding with a 6,9% growth in GDP, showing a marked decoupling of the two metrics, though this is partly due to subdued economic conditions. In the 13th Five-Year Plan, power demand growth is expected to be 3,8 to 4,6% pa to 2020.

Residential consumption is about 13% of the total (compared with about 20% in Europe and 34% in the USA). Per capita electricity consumption was 3510 kWh in 2012. By 2030 it is expected to be 5500 kWh/year and by 2050 about 8500 kWh/year.

Electricity generation in 2016 increased 5%, to 5,99 PWh. That from fossil fuels was 4289 TWh, from hydro 1181TWh, nuclear 213 TWh, wind 241 TWh and solar 66 TWh, according to the China Electricity Council. Nuclear generation was 24% up on 2015. Net exports were 11 TWh in 2014, 9 TWh of it to Hong Kong, adding to its 40 TWh generation (30 TWh from coal, 9 TWh from gas).

According to the China Nuclear Energy Association, nuclear generation in 2017 increased to 246,5 TWh. Installed generating capacity has been increasing at nearly 10% per year since 2010 and reached 1521 GWe at the end of 2015, and 1645 GWe in 2016, according to the China Electricity Council. At the end of 2016 fossil fuelled capacity (mostly coal) reached 1054 GWe, hydro capacity was 332 GWe (up 13 GWe in the year), nuclear capacity was 33.6 GWe gross, wind capacity reached 149 GWe and solar PV 77 GWe.

Renewable energy sources

Wind and solar generating capacity has been expanding rapidly, much of it with private investment encouraged by government policies, such as CNY 0,54 per kWh feed-in tariff (FIT). In 2016, 17,3 GWe of new wind capacity and 34,8 GWe of solar PV was installed, but the capacity factors decreased. There is a high level of curtailment on wind generation, because of inadequate grid connections. In 2016 some 50 TWh of potential wind output – about 20% on average and up to 50% in some provinces – was curtailed, according to the National Energy Administration, and several provinces have been ordered to stop approving wind projects until they improve transmission infrastructure.

In 2016 the curtailment was mainly in Gansu (43% of production), Xinjiang (38%), Jilin (30%), Inner Mongolia (21%), and Heilongjiang (19%). There is a similar situation for grid-connected solar, with 7 TWh being curtailed – about 20% in the main five provinces, and the capacity factor is about 17%. In 2016 NDRC reduced wind FITs by 5% to 13% and solar utility FITs by 24% to 31%. The 13th five-year plan has about 16 GWe/year of wind addition and aims to reduce grid curtailment from wind to 5%. However, having made huge investments, many wind and solar power producers have been affected by grid curtailment rates in the 30% range for the past few years.

Energy policy and clean air

While coal is the main energy source, most reserves are in the north or northwest and present an enormous logistical problem – nearly half the country’s rail capacity is used in transporting coal. Because of the heavy reliance on old coal-fired plant, electricity generation accounts for much of the country’s air pollution, which is a strong reason to increase nuclear share. China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions.

Gas consumption in 2013 was forecast to be 165 billion cubic metres, up 11.9% on 2012. China has shale gas resources, but much of it is in the northwest which is very arid, so water supply is a constraint. By 2035 the US Energy Information Administration expects China’s gas to come equally from conventional, coal bed and shale sources.

Nuclear power

Nuclear power has an important role, especially in the coastal areas remote from the coalfields and where the economy is developing rapidly. Generally, nuclear plants can be built close to centres of demand, whereas suitable wind and hydro sites are remote from demand. Moves to build nuclear power commenced in 1970 and about 2005 the industry moved into a rapid development phase, in the 11th five-year plan.

Fig. 1: Nuclear power plant construction in China.

Technology has been drawn from France, Canada and Russia, with local development based largely on the French element. The latest technology acquisition has been from the USA (via Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba) and France. The State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) made the Westinghouse AP1000 the main basis of technology development in the immediate future, particularly evident in the local development of CAP1400 based on it, and more immediately the CAP1000.

This has led to a determined policy of exporting nuclear technology, based on China’s development of the CAP1400 reactor with Chinese intellectual property rights and backed by full fuel cycle capability. In 2015 the Hualong One reactor became the main export product. The policy is being pursued at a high level politically, as one of 16 key national science and technology projects, utilising China’s economic and diplomatic influence, and led by the initiative of CGN commercially, with SNPTC and more recently CNNC in support. By around 2040, PWRs are expected to level off at 200 GWe and fast reactors progressively increase from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050 and 1400 GWe by 2100.

Floating nuclear power plants

In May 2014 the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA) signed an agreement with Rosatom to cooperate in construction of floating nuclear cogeneration plants (FNPPs) for China offshore islands. These would be built in China but be based on Russian technology, and possibly using Russian KLT-40S reactors – Russia’s TVEL anticipated providing fuel for them. In July 2014 Rusatom Overseas signed a further agreement, this time with CNNC New Energy, for the joint development of FNPPs – both barge-mounted and self-propelled – from 2019.

Further nuclear plants: operating, under construction and planned China General Nuclear Power (CGN) was expecting to have 34 000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020, providing 20% of the province’s power, and 16 000 MWe under construction then. From 2010 it expected to commission three units per year and, from 2015, four units per year.

CGN is also, due to State Council policy, committed to developing significant wind capacity through CGN Wind Co. It projected a total of 500 MWe wind by 2020. In 2006, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed agreements in Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong and Hunan provinces and six cities in Hunan, Anhui and Guangdong provinces to develop nuclear projects. CNNC pointed out that there was room for 30 GWe of further capacity by 2020 in coastal areas and maybe more inland such as Hunan “where conditions permit”.

This an extract from the World Nuclear Association’s report. Click here to read the full report

Contact Jonathan Cobb, World Nuclear Association,




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