China has steadily increased its electricity generation over the past 20 years, reaching 7600 TWh in 2020 from 1280 TWh in 2000, according to US Energy Information Administration’s recently updated ‘Country Analysis Brief: China’. Despite COVID-19 mitigation efforts in 2020, China still expanded its electricity generation by 5% in 2020. 

China has been increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in electricity generation, but coal remains the predominant source. In 2020, China generated 4775 TWh from coal-fired power plants, a 63% share of the total. In 2000, coal accounted for 77% (992 TWh). In the intervening 20 years, non-fossil fuels, including hydroelectric, wind, and solar generation, grew to 27% (2058 TWh) of China’s generation mix, from 17% (221 TWh) in 2000. Solar has been the fastest-growing generation source and grew by an average of 43% each year from 2015 to 2020. Solar accounted for 6% of China’s electricity generation in 2020.

In 2021, China’s government issued its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–2025) for National Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China. The plan sets out China’s strategy for industry planning and policy through 2025 and prioritises China’s low-carbon and carbon-neutral initiatives. The plan sets numerous goals, including:

  • To achieve its goal to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 after which its target is to have carbon emissions decline:
  • To become carbon neutral by 2060:
  • To reach a 39% non-fossil fuel share for electricity generation by 2025.

Despite the carbon goals in China’s Five-Year Plan, coal will remain an important fuel in China’s electric power sector in the near term. In total, China approved 46.1 GW of coal-fired power plant projects in 2020. Natural gas, however, is replacing some of the coal-fired capacity in the eastern region of China, where power demand is higher than in the rest of the country, and the northeastern region, where stricter environmental regulations have reduced coal-fired electricity generation.

China remains the world’s most populous country, with a population of 1.4 billion people in 2020, and has a fast-growing economy. EIA data show that in 2020, more energy was produced and more energy was consumed in China than in any other country. EIA anticipates that China’s energy demand will continue to increase.