Solar photovoltaic modules on a hillside in a village in Chuzhou STR/AFP/Getty Images

China’s Bold Energy Vision

China’s proposed Global Energy Interconnection – based on renewables, ultra-high-voltage transmission, and an AI-powered smart grid – represents the boldest global initiative by any government to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement. It is a strategy fit for the scale of the most important challenge the world faces today.

BEIJING – The boldest plan to achieve the targets set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement comes from China. The Paris accord commits the world’s governments to keeping global warming to well below 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit) relative to the pre-industrial level. This can be accomplished mainly by shifting the world’s primary energy sources from carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to zero-carbon, renewable (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, ocean, biomass), and nuclear energy by the year 2050. China’s Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) offers a breathtaking vision of how to achieve this energy transformation.

Few governments appreciate the scale of this transformation. Climate scientists speak of the “carbon budget” – the total amount of carbon dioxide that humanity can emit in the coming years while still keeping global warming to under 2º. Current estimates put the mid-point estimate of the world’s carbon budget at around 600 billion tons. Humanity currently emits around 40 billion tons of CO2 per year, implying that the world has only until mid-century or even sooner to phase out fossil fuels and move entirely to zero-emission sources of primary energy.

Here’s what needs to be done. Today’s electricity is largely generated by burning coal and natural gas; these thermal power plants need to be phased out and replaced by electricity generated by solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, and other non-carbon sources. Today’s buildings are heated mostly by boilers, radiators, and furnaces fueled by heating oil and natural gas; these need to be replaced by buildings heated by electricity. Today’s vehicles run on petroleum products; these need to be replaced by electric vehicles.

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