A Global Effort to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

February 15, 2024

Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—have been the lifeblood of modern civilization. They fueled the technological revolution, powering our industries, homes and transportation. Global energy consumption heavily relies on them, with nearly 80% coming from these sources. This reliance has brought immense progress, driving development and raising living standards for many.

However, this progress comes at a steep price. Burning fossil fuels spews carbon dioxide, threatening the very planet that sustains us. They also choke our air, contributing to air pollution and health problems, with millions suffering premature deaths each year.

Coal continues to reign supreme in electricity generation globally. Though some countries are pledging to ditch it, phasing it out remains a slow progress, particularly in developed nations like the US and parts of Asia.

The transition to cleaner energy alternatives such as nuclear and renewable sources is a necessity for the future, and China, being the economic powerhouse of Asia, has the potential to spearhead this change. 

Horasis is organizing its Horasis China Meeting in Binh Duong, Vietnam, between 14 to 15 April 2024. The meeting will bring together China’s business leaders and their global counterparts, facilitating the path towards the evolution of a greener future in China and beyond.

Challenges Persist

Phasing out fossil fuels is a complex and necessary undertaking, but it comes with a multitude of challenges. Fossil fuels are deeply intertwined with the global economy. They power industries, generate jobs, and fuel transportation. A rapid transition away from them can lead to economic disruption, job losses and energy insecurity, particularly in countries heavily reliant on these resources.

While renewable energy sources like solar and wind are growing rapidly, they still face limitations. They struggle with intermittency (not always available), storage and grid integration issues, and require significant infrastructure upgrades. 

Furthermore, transitioning to a clean energy future requires significant upfront investments in new technologies, infrastructure, and research. Mobilizing the necessary funding—both public and private—is a significant challenge, especially for developing countries.

Tech Advancements

Innovations in battery storage are becoming a pivotal factor in the transition to clean energy. China, with its substantial investments in this field, aims to achieve a storage capacity of 100 GW by 2030. In a first of its kind, China has developed a compressed air power station. This unique system uses electrical energy to store air in an underground salt cavern and then releases it to power an air turbine, generating electricity as needed. Once operational, each cycle of this system can store up to 300,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the daily power consumption of approximately 60,000 residents.

China is also on the verge of completing the world’s most extensive iron-chromium flow battery energy storage facility, which is projected to store 6,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity for a duration of six hours. These batteries have the capability to be recharged using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, and can be discharged when there is a high demand for energy.

China is leading the way in renewable power generation. The nation is on course to generate 1,200 gigawatts of energy from wind and solar power by 2025, achieving its 2030 target five years ahead of time. With a utility-scale solar capacity of 228 GW, China exceeds the combined capacity of the rest of the world. Its combined onshore and offshore wind capacity has now doubled from its 2017 level to over 310 GW. Furthermore, China is planning to construct over 1,000 GW of N-type solar cell capacity, a next-generation technology succeeding P-type, which is 17 times greater than the combined capacity of the rest of the world.

Supporting Policies

Phasing out fossil fuels is possible, but it will require policy and investment support, encouraging development in renewable energy driven by solar and wind, electrification and energy efficiency. 

Reallocating subsidies from fossil fuels to solar and wind can ease the challenges associated with the cost-of-living crisis, as well as address climate and environmental risks. This shift is warranted to ensure the seamless operation of the global economy.

In 2019, China allocated US$247.64 million in government subsidies towards nearly 4,000 solar power projects, with a total installed capacity of 22.79 GW. The country also allocated US$109.25 million worth of subsidies for rooftop power projects aimed at alleviating rural poverty and promoting clean energy.

In the green infrastructure front, China is also investing heavily in deployment of EV charging points. As of August 2022, China accounted for 65% of global public charging points, with 87,000 new charging stations being added in May of 2022. The country is targeting for a ratio of 14.66 charging points per vehicle by 2025.

Although numerous steps are being taken to address rising climate change – phasing out fossil fuel completely is the need of the hour. To ensure, global temperature is limited to 1.5°C, phasing out all unabated fossil fuels is imperative. 

“Achieving net zero CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions requires systems transformations across all sectors and contexts, including scaling up renewable energy while phasing out all unabated fossil fuels, ending deforestation, reducing non-CO2 emissions and implementing both supply and demand side measures,” as put aptly by the United Nations report of September 2023.

Photo Caption: China is at the forefront of expanding its renewable energy footprint.