Last year China installed more new wind and solar capacity than any country in history. This is a fact, and it has led some to talk of China being a “renewables powerhouse” and of there being a “renewables revolution”.
But out of context this fact can be much less impressive than it really is.
Let me put it into context using the most recent data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
Over the last decade China’s primary energy consumption grew by 1398 million tonnes of equivalent (Mtoe). Though, if history is a guide this figure will eventually be revised upwards.
The annual average increase then was 140 Mtoe. For a comparison, Britain’s annual primary energy consumption was 188 Mtoe last year.
China’s growth rate was actually higher in the early 2010s, but has slowed recently (probably due to a worsening economic situation.
But that’s the context for judging the growth of wind and solar in China: 140 Mtoe of (mostly coal) energy added per year for the last decade.
How does China’s world leading wind and solar build out compare with this?
In total, China got 42.4 Mtoe from wind and solar in 2014. In other words, the total production of energy from wind and solar energy is less than one third of a year’s of growth in primary energy consumption.
When you look at annual growth things are even clearer. Wind and solar grew by 6.97 Mtoe last year. This is a mere 5% of the average total growth in primary energy.
There is no renewables revolution in China. So, as always, I recommend that people spend some time with data sources such as the BP Statistical Review of World Energy and less time reading pundits and the instant experts of Twitter.