Sustainable Systems Forum: Pathways for Carbon Neutrality in China

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Event Type: 
Sustainable Systems Forum
Michael Davidson, Assistant Professor, UCSD, School of Global Policy and Strategy
Friday, January 14, 2022 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Event Sponsor: 
Center for Sustainable Systems


In order to keep global average temperature rise to within 1.5-2C, global anthropogenic GHG emissions must reach net zero by around mid-century and become net negative in the second half of the century. Globally, this could imply a ten-fold increase in renewable energy capacity from 2020 to 2050. As the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and energy consumer, China's energy sector transformation is at the heart of this challenge. China has announced commitments to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2060 and pathways to achieve this would rely upon unprecedented deployment of renewable energy and negative emissions technologies (NETs) in the power sector. We develop a spatially-explicit model of renewable energy resource availability in China with key operational detail in the power system in order to assess optimal deployment of wind, solar, storage, and transmission in 2060. Our results indicate massive increases are required across all technologies and, in particular, that land use constraints become increasingly binding at these higher penetrations. Sensitivities across a range of technological and cost parameters indicate key relationships (e.g., solar build-out as a function of storage costs) that demonstrate the potential for different power sector mixes to achieve climate goals.


Michael Davidson is an assistant professor joint with the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Davidson’s teaching and research focus on the engineering implications and institutional conflicts inherent in deploying low-carbon energy at scale to mitigate environmental harms, specializing in applications to China, India, and the U.S. He uses engineering models, econometric techniques, and qualitative data on system operator decision-making situations to explore the causes and consequences of incomplete institutional reforms to power sectors. Dr. Davidson is a faculty member with the 21st Century China Center, the Center for Commerce and Diplomacy, and the Japan Forum on Innovation and Technology at UC San Diego. He is a fellow in the Public Intellectuals Program at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Prior to UCSD, he was a post-doctoral research fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in engineering systems and an S.M. in technology and policy from MIT, and a B.S. in mathematics and physics and a B.A. in Japanese studies from Case Western Reserve University. He was previously the U.S.-China Climate Policy Coordinator for the environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council and was a Fulbright Fellow to Tsinghua University.