As China prepares for climate discussions at the upcoming COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, the nation finds itself at a crossroads. On one hand, the country continues with the coal plant construction. On the other, a recent joint climate agreement with the United States has raised hopes for positive commitments.

China’s last significant pledge to combat climate change came at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. The nation promised to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and “strictly control coal-fired power generation projects.”

However, the coal-related activities have increased in the country.

Experts expect the joint climate agreement with the US will contribute to positive commitments at the upcoming UN climate conference.

China’s experiences in 2021 are marked by severe power outages leading to rationing, factory closures, and discomfort in homes due to sudden energy shortages.

China finds itself with an excess of coal power capacity. The average utilisation rate for coal power plants barely exceeds 50%. Experts argue that prioritising the enhancement of technological infrastructure for grid stability and efficiency is crucial for the nation’s energy security.

Gao Yuhe, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, stresses the importance of energy storage in China’s energy transition. Energy storage would enable renewable energy to take a leading role in the country’s energy landscape, providing the flexibility needed for a sustainable grid. Unlike coal power plants, which are inflexible due to extended startup and cooldown times, renewable energy storage is a dynamic solution to overcome challenges associated with traditional power sources.

However, the journey toward a green energy future is fraught with obstacles. A key challenge is ensuring the timely and efficient delivery of energy to the right locations.

The events in Sichuan last year spotlighted the vulnerabilities in China’s energy landscape. A heatwave triggered a surge in energy demand as air-conditioners worked overtime, while a concurrent drought reduced hydropower generation. The combination left Sichuan unable to meet both electricity export obligations and local demand.

China’s energy planning system proved inflexible during the crisis. Sichuan continued to export energy even at the cost of local blackouts.

As China struggles with these complexities, the nation prepares for COP28, hoping for a harmonious blend of commitments that align with global climate ambitions and the practical challenges of ensuring stable, reliable, and sufficient energy for its vast population.