Air Pollution, Greenhouse Gases & Climate

Ziwen Ruan, Xi Lu, Shuxiao Wang, Jia Xing, Wei Wang, Dan Chen, Chris P. Nielsen, Yong Luo, Kebin He, and Jiming Hao. 2022. “Impacts of large-scale deployment of mountainous wind farms on wintertime regional air quality in the Beijing-Tian-Hebei area.” Atmospheric Environment, 278, June, Pp. 119074. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The development of wind power plays an essential role in achieving China's carbon neutrality goals and air quality standards. A large number of studies have addressed the benefits of substituting fossil fuels with wind power on climate and air quality (defined as indirect impact) by macro-scale methodology. In recent years, more and more researchers have discussed its impacts on the general atmospheric circulation and air pollution dispersion (defined as direct impact) by parameterizing wind energy extraction in meso-micro scale models. However, the comprehensive investigation (considering both direct and indirect impacts) of the utilization of wind power on atmosphere environmental impacts remains vacant. Our study first evaluated both the direct and indirect impacts of wind power on air quality through an integrated methodological framework by using WRF-CMAQ system. The present analysis took wind farms located in Zhangjiakou to explore their impacts on air quality in winter, particularly over the downwind Beijing municipal area in the North China Plain. Results indicated that the deployment of wind power leads to spatially mixed direct impacts on PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing with a monthly net increase of 0.067 μg/m3 (0.08%) relative to the regional average. Contrarily, the substitution of coal-burning with wind power in rural household heating would result in notable indirect benefits to monthly PM2.5 concentrations in Beijing, specifically, reducing emissions of CO2 and conventional air pollutants by 64% in rural heating sector. The combined impacts of wind power displayed regional differences: in the wintertime (January), Zhangjiakou PM2.5 concentrations increased (+0.147 μg/m3) whereas, decreases are achieved (−5.642 μg/m3) in Beijing. Therefore, to support the large-scale deployment of wind power, future energy policies should take comprehensive account of the diverse environmental impacts, including both the indirect benefits of fossil energy substitution and the potential direct atmospheric effects on regional air quality.
Rong Tang, Jing Zhao, Yifan Liu, Xin Huang, Yanxu Zhang, Derong Zhou, Aijun Ding, Chris Nielsen, and Haikun Wang. 2022. “Air quality and health co-benefits of China's carbon dioxide emissions peaking before 2030.” Nature Communications, 13, 1008. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recent evidence shows that carbon emissions in China are likely to peak ahead of 2030. However, the social and economic impacts of such an early carbon peak have rarely been assessed. Here we focus on the economic costs and health benefits of different carbon mitigation pathways, considering both possible socio-economic futures and varying ambitions of climate policies. We find that an early peak before 2030 in line with the 1.5  C target could avoid ~118,000 and ~614,000 PM2.5 attributable deaths under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 1, in 2030 and 2050, respectively. Under the 2  C target, carbon mitigation costs could be more than offset by health co-benefits in 2050, bringing a net benefit of $393–$3,017 billion (in 2017 USD value). This study not only provides insight into potential health benefits of an early peak in China, but also suggests that similar benefits may result from more ambitious climate targets in other countries.

Jonathan D'Souza, Felix Prasanna, Luna-Nefeli Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Peter John Sherman, Elise Penn, Shaojie Song, Alexander Archibald, and Michael B McElroy. 2021. “Projected changes in seasonal and extreme summertime temperature and precipitation in India in response to COVID-19 recovery emissions scenarios.” Environmental Research Letters. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Fossil fuel and aerosol emissions have played important roles on climate over the Indian subcontinent over the last century. As the world transitions toward decarbonization in the next few decades, emissions pathways could have major impacts on India's climate and people. Pathways for future emissions are highly uncertain, particularly at present as countries recover from COVID-19. This paper explores a multimodel ensemble of Earth system models leveraging potential global emissions pathways following COVID-19 and the consequences for India's summertime (June-July-August-September) climate in the near- and long-term. We investigate specifically scenarios which envisage a fossil-based recovery, a strong renewable-based recovery and a moderate scenario in between the two. We find that near-term climate changes are dominated by natural climate variability, and thus likely independent of the emissions pathway. By 2050, pathway-induced spatial patterns in the seasonally-aggregated precipitation become clearer with a drying in the fossil-based scenario and wetting in the strong renewable scenario. Additionally, extreme temperature and precipitation events in India are expected to increase in magnitude and frequency regardless of the emissions scenario, though the spatial patterns of these changes as well as the extent of the change are pathway dependent. This study provides an important discussion on the impacts of emissions recover pathways following COVID-19 on India, a nation which is likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change over the coming decades.
Xinyu Chen, Yaxing Liu, Qin Wang, Jiajun Lv, Jinyu Wen, Xia Chen, Chongqing Kang, Shijie Cheng, and Michael McElroy. 2021. “Pathway toward carbon-neutral electrical systems in China by mid-century with negative CO2 abatement costs informed by high-resolution modeling.” Joule, 5, 10 (20 October), Pp. 2715-2741. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China, the largest global CO2 emitter, recently announced ambitious targets for carbon neutrality by 2060. Its technical and economic feasibility is unclear given severe renewable integration barriers. Here, we developed a cross-sector, high-resolution assessment model to quantify optimal energy structures on provincial bases for different years. Hourly power system simulations for all provinces for a full year are incorporated on the basis of comprehensive grid data to quantify the renewable balancing costs. Results indicate that the conventional strategy of employing local wind, solar, and storage to realize 80% renewable penetration by 2050 would incur a formidable decarbonization cost of $27/ton despite lower levelized costs for renewables. Coordinated deployment of renewables, ultra-high-voltage transmissions, storages, Power-to-gas and slow-charging electric vehicles can reduce this carbon abatement cost to as low as $−25/ton. Were remaining emissions removed by carbon capture and sequestration technologies, achieving carbon neutrality could be not only feasible but also cost-competitive post 2050.
Xi Lu, Shi Chen, Chris P. Nielsen, Chongyu Zhang, Jiacong Li, Xu He, Ye Wu, Shuxiao Wang, Feng Song, Chu Wei, Kebin He, Michael P. McElroy, and Jiming Hao. 2021. “Combined solar power and storage as cost-competitive and grid-compatible supply for China’s future carbon-neutral electricity system.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118, October, Pp. 42. Publisher's VersionAbstract

As the world’s largest CO2 emitter, China’s ability to decarbonize its energy system strongly affects the prospect of achieving the 1.5 °C limit in global, average surface-temperature rise. Understanding technically feasible, cost-competitive, and grid-compatible solar photovoltaic (PV) power potentials spatiotemporally is critical for China’s future energy pathway. This study develops an integrated model to evaluate the spatiotemporal evolution of the technology-economic-grid PV potentials in China during 2020 to 2060 under the assumption of continued cost degression in line with the trends of the past decade. The model considers the spatialized technical constraints, up-to-date economic parameters, and dynamic hourly interactions with the power grid. In contrast to the PV production of 0.26 PWh in 2020, results suggest that China’s technical potential will increase from 99.2 PWh in 2020 to 146.1 PWh in 2060 along with technical advances, and the national average power price could decrease from 4.9 to 0.4 US cents/kWh during the same period. About 78.6% (79.7 PWh) of China’s technical potential will realize price parity to coal-fired power in 2021, with price parity achieved nationwide by 2023. The cost advantage of solar PV allows for coupling with storage to generate cost-competitive and grid-compatible electricity. The combined systems potentially could supply 7.2 PWh of grid-compatible electricity in 2060 to meet 43.2% of the country’s electricity demand at a price below 2.5 US cents/kWh. The findings highlight a crucial energy transition point, not only for China but for other countries, at which combined solar power and storage systems become a cheaper alternative to coal-fired electricity and a more grid-compatible option.

Lu et al. is the cover article of this October issue of PNAS. Read the Research Brief.

Xian Hu

Ph.D. Student, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University
Visiting Fellow, Harvard-China Project
Xian’s current research focuses on carbon pricing policies and global economic development. She works on a dynamic model of the global economy and simulates... Read more about Xian Hu
Shi Chen, Xi Lu, Chris P. Nielsen, Guannan Geng, Michael B. McElroy, Shuxiao Wang, and Jiming Hao. 2022. “Improved air quality in China can enhance solar power performance and accelerate carbon neutrality targets.” One Earth. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China forecasts that a 14-fold increase in photovoltaic installations is needed to meet 2060 carbon-neutrality targets. In light of the fact that air pollution impairs photovoltaic performance, pollution control could reduce the installation requirement, but research has not yet taken into account the coeval impact of unfavorable meteorological conditions, which also impair performance. Here, we employ a coupled model to determine the impact of air-pollution control policies on China’s photovoltaic power output in the presence of varying meteorological conditions between 1995 and 2019. We find that the benefits of air-pollution control introduced in 2004 were only partially offset by unfavorable meteorological conditions (primarily in Central and South China) and resulted in solar-power performance improvement of 0.9%/decade from 2008 onward. Further analysis shows that solar-power output in 2020 was 1.7% higher thanks to air-pollution control and that more stringent air-quality targets could reduce the demand for photovoltaic installed capacity needed to meet the 2060 carbon-neutrality target.