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168 Hours on 100% Renewables

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168 Hours on 100% Renewables: Qinghai’s Trail Means More Potential for Governments and Companies to Go Green.

For seven days — from June 17th to 23rd — China’s Qinghai province ran on 100% renewable energy, including solar, wind, and hydropower. During that time, the province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.

The week was part of a trial conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China, which aims to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. This successful experiment in part proves China’s dedication to fulfill its commitment to the Paris Agreement, peaking its coal consumption and reducing its carbon intensity by 60%-65% by 2030, as well as its hope to produce 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It also demonstrates that running largely on renewable power — at least in certain places — is technically feasible. We hope this will embolden governments and companies to envision a future with more renewables in their energy mix.

Big Hydro and Weak Demand Critical

The geographic location of Qinghai is rich in solar and hydro resources. Out of Qinghai’s 23.4 GW of total power generation capacity, around 82% is from renewable sources (including hydro). Solar alone accounts of 29.1% of all capacity installed, registering as the second largest power source of the province. By 2020, the province plans to expand its clean energy capacity to 35 GW, which could supply 110 TWh of clean energy annually. Ample summer rainfall is a significant contributor, as hydropower accounted for approximately 72% of the electricity generated during the seven days.

Apart from strong hydro output, Qinghai’s low power demand is also an important reason for this trail to success, something difficult for other places to replicate. The average daily power demand is 150 million kWh, only 15% of that of the much more developed Zhejiang province (1 billion kWh daily demand) for example.

Running on solar, wind and hydro, Qinghai has shown the technical viability of going 100% renewable and it proved that the grid is stable when supported by a variety of renewable sources. This test helped China’s grid operators to accumulate technical experience in deciding how much power should be supplied by which sources.

More renewable energy also makes economic sense for Qinghai. “On-grid price of hydro power is 0.201 yuan/kWh, while coal power is 0.325 yuan/kWh. Coal is 0.124 yuan more expensive than hydro per kWh. It´s also cheaper for grid companies obviously. In another word, it is economically viable.” Xiaoping Xie, president of Huanghe Hydropower Development Company said in an interview.

Calling Higher Ambitions

Yunnan, Sichuan and other provinces rich in renewable resources, that have installed many renewables are also in the condition of accomplishing something similar, although they have not announced such intentions as of yet. Such government-led pilot schemes have shown that the Chinese government is willing to fulfill its commitment to clean energy.

In addition to the government’s role, companies around the world have stepped up  their effort by setting renewable targets. 23 Leading Fortune 500 companies have gone a step further by integrating a 100% renewable energy commitment into their business strategy. For example, Google has promised that by 2018, every click on Google will be powered by renewable energy.

Qinghai’s 100% renewable energy trail provides an important signal to governments and companies alike, that high percentage of renewable energy power mix is no longer just a vision but a reality, and that adoption will only grow higher going forward. For companies that care about their energy footprint, this trial — and the broader direction it signals — not only mean that their own effort to procure clean energy will create synergies with government initiatives, but also that electricity generated from their renewable projects will be better absorbed by their grids and communities, allowing them to reduce curtailment risks and contribute more to local communities.