Imperial College London

China Energy Calculator: An important tool to study carbon neutrality

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Energy in China

"Achieving carbon neutrality in China before 2060" is a positive goal-oriented and an anti-driving mechanism for emissions reduction, which are in line with the basic methodological logics of the China Energy Calculator.

Goal-oriented design is a typical methodology commonly used by countries or economies around the world in formulating plans, policies and prospects. For example, the European Union (EU) proposed three goals of 20% by 2020 (increasing the proportion of renewable energy to 20%, improving energy efficiency by 20%, carbon emissions are reduced by 20% compared to 1990 levels), the EU’s target of achieving its carbon neutrality in 2050, the United Kingdom’s goal of achieving net zero emissions in 2050, and so on. All these goals mentioned above are driving the development of countries and economies towards a green and low-carbon direction. They have also become effective means for countries to force CO2 emission reduction, improve the quality of the eco-environment, achieve energy transition and high-quality economic growth. Furthermore, the goals are also very conducive to the international community since they help unite everyone to achieve a win-win cooperation on the issue of climate change. As an analysis platform for energy economic pathway, ‘Energy Calculator’ can combine target inversion and balance analysis and analyse scenarios based on the 1.5°C-2°C emission reduction scenario in various periods before 2050. In the meantime, follow the path learning method, through the update and expansion of the China Energy Calculator, the Calculator generated the relevant data for 2060, and the results of different emission reduction scenarios can be pushed back and connected.

We did a preliminary analysis to use the China Energy Calculator through  setting 2060 as the latest year for China to achieve ‘carbon neutrality’.

The basic results are as follow: CO2 will reach its peak in 2025, and CO2 emissions from the energy sector will be approximately 9.6 billion tons. CO2 emissions from the energy sector will be approximately 4.18 billion tons in 2050, while 3.1 billion tons CO2 emissions can be offset by reforestation, negative emission technologies and energy-saving measures. In 2060, the CO2 emissions from the energy sector will be about 1.67 billion tons, and the CO2 emissions from the non-energy sector will drop to about 350 million tons (mainly industrial processes), requiring maintained reforestation to offset 700 million tons. As for carbon sink contribution, the negative emission technology can absorb about 500 million tons, and reinforced energy-saving measures reinforce need to contribute a reduction of about 820 million tons.

The two important conclusions are:

1. Energy conservation is the most important and economical strategic measure for China to achieve the goal of ‘carbon neutrality’.

Enhanced energy conservation will become the most important means for China to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality in the energy sector. Compared with emission reduction technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear energy and CCUS, etc, enhanced energy-saving measures are more economical and are conducive to energy security and improvement of the ecological environment. Following ‘renewable energy equipment and manufacture’, ‘energy-saving and carbon-reduction’ will become the most important sector in China and the market scale is huge in the future.

2. Accelerating the construction of an energy system centred on the ‘green load centre’ is the key to achieving China's energy and power transition and the goal of carbon neutrality.

In the process of China’s energy transition and achieving the goal of carbon neutrality, an extremely important issue is how to realise the transformation of load centre from coal powered base load to green power load centre, which are mainly answered by renewable energy and appropriate energy storage. Moreover, all of the green power load centres (such as provincial and regional load centres) should be connected to form a green grid system with the highest security standard. This should be the largest, most challenging, and most specialised energy work for upgrading and transformation of China's energy system in the future. With the continuous maturity of digital technology and various advanced green energy technologies and lower and lower cost trends, the energy system will mainly consist of circular economy, hydrogen energy, digitalisation, energy storage technology, zero-carbon power generation technology and terminal consumer electrification.


Victoria Hoare

Victoria Hoare
Centre for Environmental Policy

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Yufeng Yang

Yufeng Yang
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change


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