The transformation of the electric power sector in China

John A. Mathews, Hao Tan

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


China's industrial transformation of the past thirty years, when its GDP has been increasing by an average of 10% per year, has been underpinned by an energy industrial revolution. Electrical energy is the driver of this transformation, with China utilizing latecomer advantages in building an electrical energy generation machine of prodigious size. In terms of electrical energy generated, China's system has expanded twelve-fold in 30 years, from 280. TWh in 1980 to over 3500. TWh in 2010. In this paper we describe the principal features of this remarkable transformation, examining the official projections to 2020, the semi-official projections to 2050, and offering our own projections based on observed logistic industrial dynamics for the uptake of renewable energies as well as the continuing role to be played by fossil fuels, particularly coal. We emphasize the role to be played by China's construction of a 'strong and smart' electric power grid, as envisaged in the 12th Five Year Plan released in March 2011, and the complementary proposals to build a national high speed rail system. We see China as on track to phase out fossil fuels altogether in its power production system by the end of the century. We develop an argument as to why it might be expected that fossil fuel utilization will decline while renewable energy utilization might increase in China, constituting a genuine energy industrial revolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-180
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Electric power
  • Logistic industrial dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Energy
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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