Beijing powers up green energy transition

All low-lying areas of the city were essentially coal-free by late 2018, while the Datai coal mine in Mentougou district was closed in September 2020, marking the end of coal mining in the capital.


Children skate under a blue sky in Beijing in August. WANG ZICHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

February 10, 2023

BEIJING – Measures aim to ensure that the change to eco-friendly operations will be smooth and effective. Hou Liqiang reports.

By late 2017, all six districts of Beijing’s downtown had transitioned to the use of natural gas as a heating source, instead of coal. In addition, almost all the coal-fired boilers in the city had been phased out.

All low-lying areas of the city were essentially coal-free by late 2018, while the Datai coal mine in Mentougou district was closed in September 2020, marking the end of coal mining in the capital.

Ongoing efforts to phase out coal have resulted in a substantial improvement in Beijing’s air quality. In 2013, the first year PM2.5 particulate matter was monitored in the city, the annual average density of the air pollutant was 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter. By last year, the figure had fallen to 30 mcg per cu m.

The city, with a population of 22 million, is a pertinent example of the work being undertaken to synergize the reduction of pollution and carbon emissions as a viable path to achieving the country’s climate targets and bringing the Beautiful China Initiative to reality.

Over the past 20 years, Beijing has demonstrated that a mega city with rapidly growing GDP, and fast rises in vehicle numbers, population and energy consumption can reduce air pollution effectively, said Yu Jianhua, deputy head of the Beijing Ecology and Environment Bureau, at a news conference earlier this year.

The capital’s GDP shot up from 247.9 billion yuan in 2000 to more than 4 trillion yuan ($590 billion) in 2021, according to the city authorities.

During that time, the number of motor vehicles in the city climbed by more than 5.27 million.

Vehicles for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games are filled with green hydrogen energy in January last year. CHINA DAILY

International recognition

In the past 10 years, Beijing has seen its annual average concentration of PM2.5 fall by about 6 mcg per cu m per annum. The United Nations Environment Programme has dubbed that progress the “Beijing miracle”, according to Li Xiang, director of the bureau’s atmospheric environment department.

The capital’s pollution and carbon emissions reduction endeavors have also won wider international recognition. For example, the “Phasing out Coal in Beijing’s Heating System” project was recognized as one of the world’s 10 best climate programs at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October.

“Beijing is the first city in northern China that has essentially addressed pollution from the angle of coal consumption,” Li said, adding that consumption in the city fell to about 1.3 million metric tons in 2021, compared with 21.8 million tons in 2012. Moreover, compared with 2012, carbon dioxide emissions in the capital per unit of GDP fell by 48 percent.

Based on the air pollution control experiences of the past 10 years, the bureau will make the synergizing of the reduction of pollution and carbon emissions the main focus of its efforts to further improve the capital’s air quality, Li said.

As China works toward peaking carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the decade and becoming carbon neutral by 2060, many more measures are being rolled out in Beijing for even greener development.

The Temple of Heaven is seen under a blue sky in January last year. WANG XIN/FOR CHINA DAILY

According to a 2021-25 energy development plan issued by the Beijing government, the capital’s heating supply system is expected to be coal free before 2025, while the entire city will essentially halt the use of coal by 2035.

The document also includes plans to bolster the development of renewable energy and strengthen the transmission of green power, which will be brought into the capital from other regions.

It aims to raise the proportion of renewable energy in the capital’s energy consumption mix from 10.4 percent in 2020 to more than 14.4 percent in 2025 by expanding the integration of photovoltaics in public buildings and promoting the development of wind and biomass power.

In fact, by 2025, the installed photovoltaic power capacity on the capital’s rooftops will have been raised by 1.2 million kilowatts.

Meanwhile, in Tongzhou district, many projects in the ongoing construction of the Beijing Municipal Administrative Center are adhering to a green, low-carbon philosophy.

For example, the headquarters of Beijing Investment Group will be equipped with highly energy-efficient heating supply and air-conditioning facilities, and will also employ a photovoltaic power generation system.

In addition to being connected to the municipal heating supply system, the building, which is expected to be handed over in October, will simultaneously use terrestrial heat — naturally generated latent heat in the subsoil — for related purposes.

In Yizhuang, an economic and technological development area in Beijing’s southern suburbs, an industrial park was certified as the country’s first-ever carbon neutral smart industrial park in early 2021.

In 2020, half the electricity consumed in the park, which is run by Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology, was provided by clean energy sources, thanks to a smart microgrid supported by distributed wind and solar power generation facilities and an electricity storage system that uses a wide range of new technologies.

The company bought carbon credits equivalent to 11,937 tons of carbon dioxide from the China Certified Emission Reductions program to offset the park’s emissions of greenhouse gases in the year. The move refers to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by companies on a voluntary basis that is certified by the government.

Rooftop photovoltaic panels are installed at the Beijing Fengtai Station during construction in 2021. JIA TIANYONG/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Olympic legacy

The legacy of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games also means that energy consumption in the capital will be greener.

Thanks to a grid that transmits solar and wind power from Zhangbei, Hebei province, all the energy demands of the event’s venues were supplied via renewable power. The grid, which has the capacity to supply about 10 percent of Beijing’s electricity needs, will be used to help power the city.

Green electricity is also expected to be transmitted to Beijing from several nearby regions.

Mu Peng, head of the Beijing Commission of Development and Reform, said the capital established cooperation mechanisms for the development of green electricity with Shanxi province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region last year.

Construction of a new energy development base that will serve Beijing has started in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia’s capital, Mu said when he reported to the first session of the 16th Beijing People’s Congress on Jan 15.

Meanwhile, when Yin Yong, Beijing’s mayor, delivered the city’s Government Work Report to the session, he stressed the authorities’ determination to make the capital even greener.

“Firmly establishing and practicing the concept that ‘lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets’, Beijing will make concerted efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions, reduce pollution, expand green development and pursue economic growth as it strives to make our skies bluer, mountains greener and water more lucid,” he said.

As the authorities work to further raise the proportion of renewables in the city’s energy consumption mix, they will also beef up efforts to promote a green, low-carbon transformation and upgrading in industrial parks and improve energy conservation in public buildings, he added.

Beijing will also establish an incentive mechanism to encourage voluntary contributions from medium, small and micro businesses and the public to reduce carbon emissions, as the authorities work to establish a favorable pattern for the reduction of carbon emissions that will involve people from all walks of life, he said.

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