China is undergoing an energy revolution by pursuing a low-carbon economy and a fundamental change in its energy structure. The plan is for renewable energy to be 50% of China’s energy consumption by 2050 and to decrease carbon intensity 60–65% by 2030 from the 2005 level. This energy revolution highlights the importance of renewable energy for energy security and sustainable development in China. The energy revolution reflects the requirement of a low-carbon economy and China’s international commitments to combating climate change. However, curtailed renewable energy and expanding fossil energy constitute a paradox in this energy revolution. Although China has progressed in its development of renewable energy, this paradox hinders renewable energy from challenging the dominance of fossil energy in the short term. Notably, an energy revolution can be considered a process of socio-technical transition that requires the co-evolution of social, economic, political, and technical factors. Using the multi-level perspective as an analytical framework, it is uncovered that this paradox results mainly from social and economic obstacles at the macro and meso level, rather than technological factors at the micro level. The energy trilemma, interest divergence, and weak supervision are the main social and economic factors affecting whether the priority of renewable energy can be secured. Limiting the expansion of renewable energy improperly and eliminating traditional fossil energy arbitrarily are two undesirable extremes. Proper mechanisms should be established to accelerate the transition process while acknowledging the inertia and importance of the traditional energy industry. The measures should include the coordination of interests during energy transition, the rule of law in the energy sector, the full life-cycle clean production of renewable energy, and the phasing out of unreasonable fossil fuel subsidies.
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews Vol 137
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