Modelling the potential for wind energy integration on China’s coal-heavy electricity grid

  • Nature Energy 1, Article number: 16086 (2016)
  • doi:10.1038/nenergy.2016.86
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Expanding the use of wind energy for electricity generation forms an integral part of China’s efforts to address degraded air quality and climate change. However, the integration of wind energy into China’s coal-heavy electricity system presents significant challenges owing to wind’s variability and the grid’s system-wide inflexibilities. Here we develop a model to predict how much wind energy can be generated and integrated into China’s electricity mix, and estimate a potential production of 2.6 petawatt-hours (PWh) per year in 2030. Although this represents 26% of total projected electricity demand, it is only 10% of the total estimated physical potential of wind resources in the country. Increasing the operational flexibility of China’s coal fleet would allow wind to deliver nearly three-quarters of China’s target of producing 20% of primary energy from non-fossil sources by 2030.

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We thank the consortium of founding sponsors of the MIT-Tsinghua China Energy and Climate Project Eni S.p.A., the French Development Agency (AFD), ICF International, and Shell International Limited for funding this work at MIT. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71573152), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, the National Development and Reform Commission of China, the National Energy Administration of China, Rio Tinto, and Total for supporting this research at Tsinghua University. We further thank the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy for support to MIT through a cooperative agreement. At MIT the China Energy and Climate Project is part of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which is funded through a consortium of industrial sponsors and Federal grants, including the US Department of Energy Office of Science (Grant No. DE-FG02-94ER61937).

Author information

Author notes

    • Michael R. Davidson
    •  & Da Zhang

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. China Energy and Climate Project, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Michael R. Davidson
    • , Da Zhang
    •  & Valerie J. Karplus
  2. China Energy and Climate Project, Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Da Zhang
    • , Weiming Xiong
    •  & Xiliang Zhang
  3. Research Center for Contemporary Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Xiliang Zhang
  4. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Valerie J. Karplus


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All authors conceived the research. M.R.D. and D.Z. constructed the simulation model. M.R.D., W.X., D.Z. and X.Z. provided the data. M.R.D., W.X. and D.Z. performed the analysis. M.R.D., V.J.K. and D.Z. drew the figures. M.R.D., V.J.K., W.X. and D.Z. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the findings. M.R.D. and D.Z. contributed equally to this work. V.J.K. and X.Z. jointly supervised this work. Author contributions are listed here in alphabetical order.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Xiliang Zhang or Valerie J. Karplus.

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–7, Supplementary Tables 1–21, Supplementary Figures 1–11, Supplementary References.