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China's electricity sector - central control vs local priorities, says Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson in Chapter 4, "Technology Integration in China’s Electricity System: Central Targets and Local Challenges"

Technological progress of advanced electricity generation technologies over the same time period has primarily occurred in centrally state- owned enterprises (SOEs) under close coordination and funding by central ministries and national research institutions. Five-Year Plans have consistently highlighted the importance of energy efficiency and self-sufficiency, and spearheaded development and deployment programs for ultra- supercritical (USC) boilers, the world’s most efficient coal-fired power plant technology. China’s coal-fired fleet is now roughly 15 percent more efficient than that of the United States.

These impressive achievements have justifiably attracted significant attention and positive appraisal. At the same time, however, the different levels of electricity sector priorities – at once centralized technology target setting and localized systems operation and planning – point to several potential weaknesses in the top-down system. First, the potential local benefits of new technologies – in terms of economic outcomes, public health, and others – are difficult to encapsulate in a handful of technological targets. Second, five- or ten-year technology plans may have limited capacity to adjust to changes in macro-economic conditions that make some technology designs less preferred or viable. (pp.134-135)

In Policy, Regulation and Innovation in China's Electricity and Telecom Industries, Loren Brandt and Thomas G. Rawski, editors. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

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