My thesis on scalability of deployment has remained unchanged: the massive numerical economies of scale for manufacturing and distributing wind and solar components, combined with the massive parallelization of construction that is possible with those technologies, will always make them faster and easier to scale in capacity and generation than the megaprojects of GW-scale nuclear plants. This was obvious in 2014, it was obviously true in 2019, and it remains clearly demonstrable today. Further, my point was that China was the perfect natural experiment for this assessment, as it was treating both deployments as national strategies (an absolute condition of success for nuclear) and had the ability and will to override local regulations and any NIMBYism. No other country could be used to easily assess which technologies could be deployed more quickly.
But China surprised the world in 2020, deploying not only 72 GW of wind energy, vastly more than expected, but also 48 GW of solar capacity. The wind deployment was a Chinese and global record for a single country, and the solar deployment was over 50% more than the previous year. Meanwhile, exactly zero nuclear reactors were commissioned in 2020.
The solar and wind programs had been started in the mid-2000s, and wind energy initially saw much greater deployments. Having paid much more attention to wind energy than solar for the past decade, I was surprised that solar capacity deployments exceeded wind energy in 2017 and 2018, undoubtedly part of why solar was on track to double China’s 2020 target for the technology, while wind energy was only expected to reach 125% of targets. Nuclear was lagging targets substantially, and there was no expectation of achieving them. In 2019, the clear indication was that China would make substantially higher targets for wind and solar, and downgrade their expectations for nuclear, which has been borne out.
Wind and solar are going to be the primary providers of low-carbon energy for the coming century, and as we electrify everything, the electrons will be coming mostly from the wind and sun, in an efficient, effective and low-cost energy model that doesn’t pollute or cause global warming. Good news indeed that these technologies are so clearly delivering on their promise to help us deal with the climate crisis.A Decade Of Wind, Solar, & Nuclear In China Shows Clear Scalability Winners | CleanTechnica