Electricity sector in China

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Electricity production in China 1980-2019
Electricity generation by source in 2019[1]
Coal in ChinaNatural gas: 232,500 GWh (3.2%)Other thermal: 147,600 GWh (2.0%)Nuclear power in ChinaHydroelectric power in ChinaHydroelectric power in ChinaWind power in ChinaSolar power in ChinaBiomass: 112,600 GWh (1.5%)Circle frame.svg
  •   Coal (incl. coal gangue): 4,553,800 GWh (62.2%)
  •   Natural gas: 232,500 GWh (3.2%)
  •   Other thermal: 147,600 GWh (2.0%)
  •   Nuclear: 348,700 GWh (4.8%)
  •   Hydro (conventional): 1,270,200 GWh (17.3%)
  •   Pumped storage hydro: 31,900 GWh (0.4%)
  •   Wind: 405,300 GWh (5.5%)
  •   Solar: 224,000 GWh (3.1%)
  •   Biomass: 112,600 GWh (1.5%)
Generating capacity by source in China as of 2019[1]
Coal in ChinaNatural gas: 90,240 MW (4.5%)Other thermal: 33,340 MW (1.7%)Nuclear power in ChinaHydroelectric power in ChinaHydroelectric power in ChinaWind power in ChinaSolar power in ChinaBiomass: 23,610 MW (1.2%)Circle frame.svg
  •   Coal (incl. coal gangue): 1,040,630 MW (51.8%)
  •   Natural gas: 90,240 MW (4.5%)
  •   Other thermal: 33,340 MW (1.7%)
  •   Nuclear: 48,740 MW (2.4%)
  •   Hydro (conventional): 327,750 MW (16.3%)
  •   Pumped storage hydro: 30,290 MW (1.5%)
  •   Wind: 209,150 MW (10.4%)
  •   Solar: 204,180 MW (10.2%)
  •   Biomass: 23,610 MW (1.2%)

China's electric power industry is the world's largest electricity producer, passing the United States in 2011 after rapid growth since the early 1990s. In 2019, China produced more electricity than the next three countries—U.S., India, and Russia—combined.[2][3]

Most of the electricity in China comes from coal, which accounted for 65% of the electricity generation mix in 2019.[4] By the end of 2019, China's installed capacity for renewable energy was about 795 GW,[5][6] while coal power capacity was 1040 GW.[7] In 2020, China added 48GW of solar power[8][9] and 71GW of wind power,[10][11] and 13GW of hydropower,[12] thus bringing the total installed renewable capacity to more than 900 GW. As of 2020, China's installed capacity for solar power was 252GW[13][14] and wind power was 281 GW[10]—the latter generated by more than 135,000 turbines.[15] Coal-fired electricity production declined from 2013 to 2016 coinciding with a major boom in renewable energy, and a decline in GDP growth.[16][17] In 2020, Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping announced that China aims to go carbon-neutral by 2060.[18]

China has two wide area synchronous grids, the State Grid and the China Southern Power Grid. The northern power grids were synchronized in 2005.[19] Since 2011 all Chinese provinces are interconnected. The two grids are joined by HVDC back-to-back connections.[20]

China has abundant energy with the world's third-largest coal reserves and massive hydroelectric resources. There is however a geographical mismatch between the location of the coal fields in the north-east (Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning) and north (Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Henan), hydropower in the south-west (Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet), and the fast-growing industrial load centers of the east (Shanghai-Zhejiang) and south (Guangdong, Fujian).


In April 1996, an Electric Power Law was implemented, a major event in China's electric power industry. The law set out to promote the development of the electric power industry, to protect legal rights of investors, managers and consumers, and to regulate generation, distribution and consumption.

Before 1994 electricity supply was managed by electric power bureaus of the provincial governments. Now utilities are managed by corporations outside of the government administration structure.

To end the State Power Corporation's (SPC) monopoly of the power industry, China's State Council dismantled the corporation in December 2002 and set up 11 smaller companies. SPC had owned 46% of the country's electrical generation assets and 90% of the electrical supply assets. The smaller companies include two electric power grid operators, five electric power generation companies and four relevant business companies. Each of the five electric power generation companies owns less than 20% (32 GW of electricity generation capacity) of China's market share for electric power generation. Ongoing reforms aim to separate power plants from power-supply networks, privatize a significant amount of state-owned property, encourage competition, and revamp pricing mechanisms.[21]

It is expected that the municipal electric power companies will be divided into electric power generating and electric power supply companies. A policy of competition between the different generators will be implemented in the next years.

South China from the Changjiang valley down to the South China Sea was the first part of the economy to liberalize in the 1980s and 1990s and is home to much of the country's most modern and often foreign-invested manufacturing industries. Northern and north-eastern China's older industrial base has fallen behind, remains focused on the domestic economy and has suffered relative decline.

In recent history, China's power industry is characterized by fast growth and an enormous installed base. In 2014, it had the largest installed electricity generation capacity in the world with 1505 GW and generated 5583 TWh[22] China also has the largest thermal power capacity, the largest hydropower capacity, the largest wind power capacity and the largest solar capacity in the world. Despite an expected rapid increase in installed capacity scheduled in 2014 for both wind and solar, and expected increase to 60 GW in nuclear by 2020, coal will still account between 65% and 75% of capacity in 2020.[23]

In Spring 2011, according to The New York Times, shortages of electricity existed, and power outages should be anticipated. The government-regulated price of electricity had not matched rising prices for coal.[24]

Production and capacity[edit]

Electricity production in China (TWh)[25]
Total From coal Coal %
2004 2,200 1,713 78%
2007 3,279 2,656 81%
2008 3,457 2,733 79%
2009 3,696 2,913 79%
2010 4,208 3,273 78%
2011 4,715 3,724 79%
2012 4,937 3,850 78%
2013 5,398 4,200 78%
2014 5,583 4,354 78%
2015 5,666 4,115 73%
2016 5,920 3,906 66%[26]
excluding Hong Kong
Generating capacity (2014) and production by source (2013)
GW (2014)
TWh (2013)
Coal 907[23] 3959[27]
Thermal,[clarification needed]
natural gas,
135[23] 201
Hydropower 300[23] 896[28]
Wind power 90[29] 140[30]
Solar power 28[31] 9[32]
Nuclear power 21[33] 124[34]
Total 1505 5322
excluding Hong Kong

China Energy Portal publishes Chinese energy policy, news, and statistics and provides tools for their translation into English. Translations on this site depend entirely on contributions from its readers. 2020 electricity & other energy statistics (preliminary)[35]

Source 2019 [TWh] 2020 [TWh] Change [%]
Total power production 7,326.9 7,623.6 4.0
Hydro power 1,302.1 1,355.2 4.1
Thermal power 5,046.5 5,174.3 2.5
Nuclear power 348.7 366.2 5.0
Wind power 405.3 466.5 15.1
Solar power 224 261.1 16.6
Source 2019 [GW] 2020 [GW] Change [%]
Installed generation capacity 2,010.06 2,200.58 9.5
Hydro power 358.04 370.16 3.4
Thermal power 1,189.57 1,245.17 4.7
Nuclear power 48.74 49.89 2.4
Wind power 209.15 281.53 34.6
Solar power 204.18 253.43 24.1
Source 2019 [MW] 2020 [MW] Change [%]
Newly installed generation capacity 105,000 190,870 81.8
Hydro power 4,450 13,230 197.7
Thermal power 44,230 56,370 27.4
Nuclear power 4,090 1,120 -72.6
Wind power 25,720 71,670 178.7
Solar power 26,520 48,200 81.7
National Bureau of Statistics of China

The official Statistics available in English are not up to date (latest 2018). Numbers are given in "(100 million kw.h)"[36] which equals 100 GWh or 0.1 TWh.

Electricity Production by source 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
Hydro Power 12,317.9 11,978.7 11,840.5 11,302.7 10,728.8 9,202.9 8,721.1 6,989.4
Thermal Power 50,963.2 47,546.0 44,370.7 42,841.9 44,001.1 42,470.1 38,928.1 38,337.0
Nuclear Power 2,943.6 2,480.7 2,132.9 1,707.9 1,325.4 1,116.1 973.9 863.5
Wind Power 3,659.7 2,972.3 2,370.7 1,857.7 1,599.8 1,412.0 959.8 703.3


Coal power[edit]

Coal-fired power plant in China
Entrance to a small coal mine in China, 1999.
A coal shipment underway in China, 2007.

China is the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world and is the largest user of coal-derived electricity. However, coal has been falling as a percentage of the energy mix, from over 80% in 2007 to 64% in 2018. Coal electricity generation has also declined in absolute terms since 2014.

Domestic coal production has declined even further, dropping 9% year on year in 2016.[37] Further declines in production were announced in July 2016 when the commission in charge of state-owned enterprises, SASAC, ordered companies under its supervision to cut coal mining capacity by 10% in 2 years and by 15% in 5 years.[38]

Despite the cuts to coal production and falling percentage of coal in the energy mix, electricity consumption is expected to grow by 3.6-4 percent over 2016 to 2020 according to the Thirteenth Plan (2016–2020).[39] According to the same five-year plan, coal power capacity will be expanded from 960 GW to under 1,100 GW by the end of 2020 to meet some of the continued growth in electricity demand.[39] In the first two months of 2016, China added 22 GW of capacity, 14 GW of which was coal, according to the China Electricity Council.[40]

To curtail the continued rapid construction of coal fired power plants, strong action was taken in April 2016 by the National Energy Administration (NEA), which issued a directive curbing construction in many parts of the country.[40] This was followed up in January 2017 when the NEA canceled a further 103 coal power plants, eliminating 120 GW of future coal-fired capacity, despite the resistance of local authorities mindful of the need to create jobs.[41] The decreasing rate of construction is due to the realization that too many power plants had been built and some existing plants were being used far below capacity.[42]

In 2019, reports show that approvals for new coal mines had increased fivefold over approvals in 2018, and the China State Grid Corporation forecast that total coal power plant capacity would peak at 1,230-1,350 GW, an increase of about 200-300 GW.[43] The think tank Carbon Tracker estimated the average loss was about US$4/MWh and that about 60% of power stations were cashflow negative in 2018 and 2019.[44] In 2020 Carbon Tracker estimated that 43% of coal-fired plants were already more expensive than new renewables and that 94% would be by 2025.[45] According to a 2020 analysis by Energy Foundation China, in order to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C coal plants without carbon capture must be phased out by 2045.[46]


Liujiaxia Dam in Gansu
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest power station (of any kind) in the world by installed capacity, with 22.5 GW.

Hydroelectricity is currently China's largest renewable energy source and the second overall after coal.[47] China's installed hydro capacity in 2015 was 319 GW,[48] up from 172 GW in 2009, including 23 GW of pumped storage hydroelectricity capacity.[48] In 2015, hydropower generated 1,126 TWh of power, accounting for roughly 20% of China's total electricity generation.[48]

Due to China's insufficient reserves of fossil fuels and the government's preference for energy independence, hydropower plays a big part in the energy policy of the country. China's potential hydropower capacity is estimated at up to 600 GW, but currently the technically exploitable and economically feasible capacity is around 500 GW.[citation needed] There is therefore considerable potential for further hydro development.[47] The country has set a 350 GW capacity target for 2020.[47]

Hydroelectric plants in China have a relatively low productivity, with an average capacity factor of 31%, a possible consequence of rushed construction[47] and the seasonal variability of rainfall. Moreover, a significant amount of energy is lost due to the need for long transmission lines to connect the remote plants to where demand is most concentrated.[47]

Although hydroelectricity represents the largest renewable and low greenhouse gas emissions energy source in the country, the social and environmental impact of dam construction in China has been large, with millions of people forced to relocate and large scale damage to the environment.[49]

Wind power[edit]

With its large land mass and long coastline, China has exceptional wind resources:[50] it is estimated China has about 2,380 GW of exploitable capacity on land and 200 GW on the sea.[51] At the end of 2014, there was 114 GW of electricity generating capacity installed in China, more than the total nameplate capacity of China's nuclear power stations,[52] (although capacity of wind power is not on par with capacity of nuclear power) and over the year 115,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of wind electricity had been provided to the grid.[53] In 2011, China's plan was to have 100 GW of wind power capacity by the end of 2015, with an annual wind generation of 190 terawatt-hours (TWh).[54]

China has identified wind power as a key growth component of the country's economy;[55] researchers from Harvard and Tsinghua University have found that China could meet all of their electricity demands from wind power through 2030.[56]

Nuclear power[edit]

In terms of nuclear power generation, China will advance from the moderate development strategy to accelerating development strategy. Nuclear power will play an even more important role in China's future power development. Especially in the developed coastal areas with heavy power load, nuclear power will become the backbone of the power structure there. China has planned to build up another 30 sets of nuclear power generator within 15 years with total installed capacity of 80 GW by 2020, accounting for about 4% of China's total installed capacity of the electric power industry. This percentage is expected to double every 10 years for several decades out. Plans are for 200 GW installed by 2030 which will include a large shift to Fast Breeder reactor and 1500 GW by the end of this century.

Solar power[edit]

China is the world's largest market for both photovoltaics and solar thermal energy. Of the 7,623 TWh electricity produced in China in 2020, 261.1 TWh was generated by solar power, equivalent to 3.43% of total electricity production.[57] This was a 289% increase since 2016, when production was 67.4 TWh,[58] equivalent to an annual growth rate of 40.4%.

China has been the world's leading installer of solar photovoltaics since 2013 (see also growth of photovoltaics), and the world's largest producer of photovoltaic power since 2015.[59][60][61] In 2017 China was the first country to pass 100 GW of cumulative installed PV capacity.[62]

Solar water heating is also extensively implemented, with a total installed capacity of 290 GWth at the end of 2014, representing about 70% of world's total installed solar thermal capacity.[63][64] The goal for 2050 is to reach 1,300GW of Solar Capacity. If this goal is to be reached it would be the biggest contributor to Chinese electricity demand.[65]

Natural gas[edit]

Biomass and waste[edit]

Hanyang Guodingshan Waste to Energy Plant in Wuhan.

Transmission infrastructure[edit]

Tibet Power is the company that manages power in Tibet, and is controlled by the State Grid Corporation.

The central government has made creation of a unified national grid system a top economic priority to improve the efficiency of the whole power system and reduce the risk of localised energy shortages. It will also enable the country to tap the enormous hydro potential from western China to meet booming demand from the eastern coastal provinces. China is planning for smart grid and related Advanced Metering Infrastructure.[66]

Ultra-high-voltage transmission[edit]

The main problem in China is the voltage drop when power is sent over very long distances from one region of the country to another.

Long distance inter-regional transmission have been implemented by using ultra-high voltages (UHV) of 800 kV, based on an extension of technology already in use in other parts of the world.[67]


In terms of the investment amount of China's listed power companies, the top three regions are Guangdong province, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Shanghai, whose investment ratios are 15.33%, 13.84% and 10.53% respectively, followed by Sichuan and Beijing.

China's listed power companies invest mostly in thermal power, hydropower and thermoelectricity, with their investments reaching CNY216.38 billion, CNY97.73 billion and CNY48.58 billion respectively in 2007. Investment in gas exploration and coal mining follow as the next prevalent investment occurrences.

Major players in China's electric power industry include:

The five majors, and their listed subsidiaries: The five majors are all SOEs directly administered by SASAC.[68] Their listed subsidiaries are substantially independent, hence counted as IPPs, and are major power providers in their own right. Typically each of the big 5 has about 10% of national installed capacity, and their listed subsidiary an extra 4 or 5% on top of that.

parent of Datang International Power Generation Company (SEHK: 991; SSE: 601991)
parent of GD Power Development Company (SSE: 600795),
parent of Huadian Power International Co., Ltd.
parent of Huaneng Power International (NYSE:HNP)
parent of China Power International Development Limited ("CPID", 2380.HK)

Additionally two other SOEs also have listed IPP subsidiaries:

parent of China Shenhua Energy Company (SEHK: 1088, SSE: 601088)
parent of China Resources Power Holdings Company Limited ("CRP", SEHK: 836)

Secondary companies:

Nuclear and hydro:

Grid operators include:

Territorial differences[edit]

China consists of three largely self-governing territories: the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau. The introduction of electricity to the country was not coordinated between the territories, leading to partially different electrical standards. Mainland China uses type A and I power plugs with 220 V and 50 Hz; Hong Kong and Macau both use type G power plugs with 220 V and 50 Hz. Inter-territorial travelers may therefore require a power adapter.



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Further reading[edit]


External links[edit]