Researchers from Princeton University, along with colleagues from Chinese universities and industry, have conducted a study on Chinese industrial parks, revealing unique opportunities for targeted emissions reduction efforts. China has over 2,500 industrial parks that currently rely heavily on coal for power. By analyzing 850 industrial parks, the researchers found that a combination of grid electricity and onsite green power could enable these hubs to meet their energy needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40%.
The decarbonization scenario proposed by the researchers is based on existing energy policies in China, which involve phasing out coal, increasing the use of onsite solar and wind energy, and utilizing energy recovered from waste incineration. To compensate for any energy supply gaps, their scenario incorporates additional electricity from the grid and heat from onsite natural gas plants.
To assess the benefits of their proposed decarbonization pathway, the researchers estimated the emissions of carbon and air pollutants, as well as freshwater consumption, for each industrial park. Using a regional air quality model, they calculated air pollution levels resulting from baseline and mitigation scenarios for industrial park emissions in 2030. By comparing the proposed pathway to a baseline scenario that retires fossil fuel facilities according to a normal schedule, the authors quantified the carbon, water, health, and economic benefits of their proposed pathway.
The study found that the proposed mitigation pathway would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40% overall, accounting for reductions in onsite emissions partially offset by increases from increased grid electricity and natural gas usage. This reduction is equivalent to 7% of China’s total emissions in 2014. Freshwater consumption would also decrease by about 20%, with the most significant reduction seen in water-scarce provinces. Furthermore, the reduced air pollution exposure would result in approximately 42,000 avoided premature deaths in 2030. The authors estimated that the economic benefits resulting from decarbonizing industrial parks and avoiding premature deaths would outweigh the costs of equipment and energy usage changes, ultimately bringing net economic benefits ranging from US$30-156 billion to China in 2030.
Denise Mauzerall, a corresponding author of the study and faculty member at Princeton University, highlighted that a clean energy transition in industrial hubs can yield significant environmental, health, and economic benefits. By reducing China’s industrial sector’s reliance on fossil fuels, the country can accelerate its green transition and avoid long-term dependence on fossil fuel infrastructure. The authors argue that the substantial net benefits outlined in the study can help justify the necessary investments and policy interventions to move China’s industrial parks towards a cleaner energy pathway.
Considering the global dependence on exports from the Chinese industrial sector, efforts to decarbonize it would have far-reaching benefits for international supply chain emissions. The study authors include researchers from Princeton University, Tsinghua University, and the China Huadian Corporation Ltd.
Source: Princeton University