In recent years, in response to the global climate change becoming an international mainstream issue, the energy transformation with the focus on vigorously developing renewable energy to replace fossil energy has become an important part of energy policy in many countries. According to the International Renewable Energy Consultant's 21st Century Renewable Energy Policy Network (REN21), by the beginning of 2015, at least 164 countries have renewable energy development targets, and about 145 countries have issued renewable energy support policies. . At the same time, more and more countries have set 100% renewable energy or renewable energy power targets.
However, ambitious development goals are difficult to cover up the difficult process of energy transition. Even Germany, a “best student of global energy transformation”, has recently had to adjust its strategy in the face of the problems that have been strongly promoted in the development of renewable energy: the emphasis on achieving the 80% target for renewable energy generation in 2050 remains unchanged. At the same time, reduce subsidies for renewable energy facilities and make renewable energy surcharges more “fair”, and so on. Under this circumstance, it is necessary to deeply reflect on China's renewable energy development practice under the constraints of multiple targets, in order to facilitate the smooth progress of China's energy transformation in the future.
1. The difficulty and complexity of China's current energy transformation is unprecedented.
Compared with other major economies and major energy consumers in the world, the difficulty and complexity of China's “energy transition” may be the first. In general, there are four difficulties in China's energy transformation:
First, energy consumption is large. China has become the world's largest energy consumer. According to BP World Energy Statistics, in 2014, China's primary energy consumption was 2.972 billion tons of oil equivalent, equivalent to 9.6 times that of Germany, 6.5 times that of Japan, and 15.8 times that of Britain.
Second, China's industrialization and urbanization have not been completed, and the total energy consumption is still in an increasing stage. The total energy consumption will continue to have an internal driving force for continued growth for a period of time. Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and other post-industrial countries have entered the stage of declining total energy consumption.
Third, China's energy consumption structure accounts for a very high proportion of coal, and the proportion of natural gas as a “clean energy” in fossil energy is very low. In 2014, coal accounted for 66% of China's primary energy consumption, second only to South Africa (70.6%), more than twice the world average (30%); natural gas share is only 5.6%, one of the lowest in the world. And the world average is 23.7%.
Fourth, the pressure on carbon emission reduction is large and time is tight. In 2014, China's carbon dioxide emissions were 9.76 billion tons, ranking first in the world. From 2000 to 2014, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 7.6% annually. On November 12, 2014, China and the United States issued the "Sino-US Joint Statement on Climate Change" in Beijing. China is committed to peak carbon emissions by 2030. Although the growth rate of carbon emissions will decline rapidly in recent years (average annual growth rate of emissions is 4% from 2009 to 2014), China's carbon emissions will fall from current growth to zero growth, only fifteen or six years. In short, regardless of the magnitude of energy, the growth of energy demand, or the energy structure and carbon emission reduction targets, China's energy transformation will face unprecedented challenges that are unimaginable in other countries.
2. The primary obstacle to the current advancement of China's energy transformation
The above-mentioned "four difficulties" will of course increase the difficulty of China's energy transformation, but it is not the most important obstacle affecting China's energy transformation. At present, the primary obstacle to China's energy transformation lies in the fact that the industrial, theoretical, and practical departments have different levels of simplification and stylized understanding of energy transition. Under the influence of this thinking and concept, the obstacles affecting China's transition to renewable energy are mainly manifested in three aspects:
First, the energy transition has been reduced to simply “increasing the share of renewable energy”, and the advancement of energy transformation has also been attributed to the government’s “determination”. It seems that as long as the government policy is strong and subsidies are in place, energy transformation will succeed. While Germany has become a “model student” for the transition to renewable energy, its scale of renewable energy subsidies is also huge. In 2013, the German Minister of the Environment said that if the scale of the project is not contracted, the “green revolution” in Germany will cost 1 trillion euros in the next two decades (excluding the hundreds of billions of euros already spent). As a result, not long ago, the domestic industry set off a debate about whether China's development of renewable energy can afford "high" subsidies.
Second, the current mainstream view tends to regard the cost competitiveness of renewable energy as a key issue in the transition to renewable energy. It is believed that as wind power and photovoltaic power generation costs are further reduced to compete with conventional energy sources, they will face the development of renewable energy. The problem is solved. However, the key issue in the transition to renewable energy is not a cost issue. In fact, even if the existing market system does not internalize the external costs of fossil fuel power generation, the current cost of onshore wind power with good wind resources is sufficient to compete with fossil fuel power plants.
Under the condition of considering the external cost of fossil energy, the power generation cost of wind power and photovoltaic power generation is already lower than the cost of fossil fuel power generation. In a study drafted by the Ecofys Energy Consulting Corporation for the European Commission in 2014, the cost of electricity for onshore wind and solar power generation was 0.105 euros and 0.125 euros, respectively, considering the cost of externalities, which is already lower than natural gas power generation ( 0.164 euros) and coal power generation (0.233 euros). Of course, no country in the world currently establishes a “full cost” electricity trading market, but this shows that wind and photovoltaic power already have the technology and cost base to compete with fossil fuels.
Third, the long-term and complex nature of energy transition has not been properly understood and adequately addressed. The energy transformation in human history has to go through a long period of time: coal has replaced fuelwood as the dominant energy source for about 140 years, and oil has surpassed coal to become the dominant energy source for about 90 years. Renewable energy is destined to take longer to replace fossils due to low energy density, limited resource constraints, and "conversion efficiency."
For example, from the end of the 1970s, the use of France's first hydro turbines to generate electricity, today, for more than 130 years, hydropower in the world's primary energy consumption is only about 6%. In the 1930s, wind turbines generated electricity. Since the photovoltaic power generation in the 1960s, wind power and photovoltaic power generation have only a little more than 2% of the global primary energy.
However, in practice, the “long-term” and “complexity” of the transition to renewable energy has not become a driving force for us to comprehensively and deeply study the energy transformation. Instead, it has been delayed by some market players who are unwilling to promote energy transformation. Transformation process.
The author believes that the lack of in-depth research and deep understanding of the specific historical process of energy transformation is leading to a simple understanding of energy transition, which in turn leads to the lack of strategic thinking in China's energy transformation practice. The policy response cannot grasp the main contradiction, often "Headaches are a doctor's head", and even an important reason for "headaches."
3. A complete understanding of the connotation of energy transformation is the prerequisite for effectively promoting energy transformation.
In short, energy transitions are often characterized by a shift in the dominance of primary energy species, with “new” energy replacing “old” energy. However, the increase in the “new” energy share is only a shallow manifestation of energy transition, or just a natural consequence of a successful energy transition.
For a country, a complete understanding of the connotation of energy transformation is a prerequisite for establishing a correct energy transformation strategy and for the smooth transition of energy transformation. The author believes that at least the following three aspects should be used to understand the energy transformation that many countries are currently advancing:
First of all, the energy transformation is not only to increase the proportion of renewable energy or non-fossil energy in the existing energy system, but more importantly, to have structural changes in the energy system. In other words, existing energy systems that are fully coupled with fossil energy characteristics, especially power systems, must be transformed to accommodate the distributed, low-power characteristics of renewable energy.
Without an energy system, especially for the adaptive transformation of the power system, there is limited room for the existing energy system to accommodate the development of renewable energy. Germany's rapid growth of renewable energy for more than a decade, in addition to the well-known government policy strong support, the law to force grid companies to adapt to the development of renewable energy energy grid innovation is essential. It can be seen that the transformation of the energy system as a core requirement of energy transformation can better understand the correct way and real space for the development of renewable energy.
Second, each energy transition involves a re-adjustment of the relationship of interest, which will result in losers and winners. As oil gradually replaced coal, oil suppliers and related companies rose, and some coal supplies and related companies closed down. With the deepening of renewable energy alternatives to fossil energy, competition between renewable energy companies and fossil energy companies will become increasingly fierce. Of course, the substitutes will not be willing to fail, and will take various measures to counterattack, including lobbying the government for support, but ultimately it is difficult to resist the general trend of energy transformation.
Under this circumstance, if the government cannot correctly grasp the general direction of energy transformation, and the resulting adjustment of interest relations, or the lobbying of the “old energy” group, it may introduce policies that hinder energy transformation.
For example, in the early 19th century, when the Dutch traditional dominant energy “peat” consumption status was threatened by imported coal with higher calorific value, the Dutch government adopted various measures, including the imposition of coal import tariffs, to protect the domestic peat industry. The result not only delayed the transition of the Dutch energy system to coal, but also worsened the Dutch economy, which had already begun to decline.
Finally, there must be a clear understanding and sufficient attention to the long-term and complex nature of current energy transitions, especially for grid systems to take the initiative to adapt to the requirements of renewable energy development. From the history of energy transition, it takes dozens or even hundreds of years for an energy to replace another energy source and gain a dominant position.
The current energy transformation, the main content is the replacement of fossil energy by renewable energy. In a broad sense, it can also be said that non-fossil energy substitutes for fossil energy. Compared with the historical energy transition, its long-term and complexity is even better.
In the long run, the renewable energy source, which is the main energy source of alternative energy, has no advantage in energy density compared with the replaced fossil energy. Even taking into account the “help” of the policy, it takes longer to give birth to a competitive advantage, which may become the dominant energy source.
In terms of complexity, renewable energy is a collection of multiple varieties, and none of them has the potential to become a single dominant energy source. Moreover, the technical characteristics of these renewable energy varieties are not identical. Hydropower is basically compatible with existing “large-scale” power systems based on fossil fuels. Wind and solar energy are more suitable for distributed, low-power, distributed distribution of biomass energy. Can be. To integrate these energy use technologies into an organic “new” energy system will face more technical, organizational and institutional complexities. In this regard, the government's policy formulation and implementation departments should attach great importance to it.