Jul 24, 2021 04:49 AM

China Needs More Nuclear and Hydro Power, Think Tank Finds

(Bloomberg) — China needs to accelerate its build-out of energy sources such as nuclear and pumped-hydro to stave off worsening power crunches in its industrial centers, according to a government-backed think tank.

Some of the big cities that have suffered power outages amid peaking summer demand for air-conditioning are likely to experience widening shortfalls in energy supply, according to the China Electric Power Planning and Engineering Institute in a report on China’s energy needs through 2025.

Coal, China’s main energy source, will be phased out gradually even as electricity demand increases in an expanding economy. Nuclear and pumped-hydro are particularly useful as back-ups to the intermittent power generated by other clean energy sources like wind and solar.

Pumped-hydro is one of the oldest forms of storing energy. During times of excess power availability, pumps are used to push water up an incline. When more energy is needed, gravity pulls the water back through a turbine that generates electricity.

Missed Targets

The institute attributed the intensifying shortages of electricity during periods of peak demand to China’s failure to meet targets for new generators. By 2020, it built only about three-quarters of the capacity planned for nuclear and gas, which is cleaner than coal but still emits carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change. For pumped-hydro, only half the target was met.

The major population cluster of Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin alone could have a 25 gigawatt (GW) shortage by 2025 — the equivalent to electricity from two dozen nuclear power plants. Other manufacturing hubs on the eastern coast and cities in landlocked central China could face shortfalls of similar size, according to the report.

The solution involves adding at least 20 GW of nuclear and 31 GW of pumped-hydro power, bringing the totals to 70 GW for nuclear and 62 GW for pumped-hydro by 2025, the think tank said.

China’s power demand will continue to grow through 2045, though the pace will slow as the nation increasingly adopts electrification, according to the institute. An average annual increase of 3.9% is expected by 2025 before the rate of expansion eases to 2.6% by 2035. That compares with 18% growth in the past five months, a particularly rapid rise because of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic.

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