China’s use of wind to generate electricity grew faster than coal for the first time in 2012, according to just released numbers from the China Electricity Council.

While fossil-fired generation of electricity grew 0.3 percent last year, wind-generated electricity grew 35.5 percent. Solar-generated electricity grew 414 percent and nuclear generation grew 12.6 percent.

However, these numbers hid the scale of the shift because traditional generation has such a huge pre-existing base:

  • Fossil-fired generation, which still accounted for 79 percent of China’s electricity generation in 2012, added 12 terawatt-hours for a cumulative total of 3,910.8 terawatt-hours of generation.
  • Wind’s 35.5 percent growth meant an addition of 26 terawatt-hours of generation. But it achieved a much smaller cumulative 100.4 terawatt-hours of electricity production. Its growth did, however, put it ahead of nuclear energy’s cumulative 98 terawatt-hours of generation.
  • Solar reached a cumulative 3.5 terawatt-hours of electricity production.
  • Hydroelectric power had the biggest total growth of generation in China, adding 196 terawatt-hours to reach 864 terawatt-hours of electricity production.

Total power consumption grew 5.5 percent in China last year, compared to an 11.7 percent growth in 2011, while its gross domestic product grew 7.8 percent, down from 9.2 percent the year below.

The slower economic growth, reduced provincial energy use targets set by the Chinese central government, and a growing antipathy toward fossil-fired generation were all contributing factors, according to Beijing-based Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Li Shuo.

“The record air pollution in January this year has changed the discussion about coal,” Shuo added, “and now prominent policymakers and opinion leaders, even vice-ministers, call for capping coal use, especially in the eastern populated and industrial areas of China.”