China has enacted a series of policies since 2015 to substitute electricity for in-home
combustion for rural residential heating. The Electric Heating Policy (EHP) has contributed to
significant improvements in air quality, benefiting hundreds of millions of people. This shift,
however, has resulted in a sharp increase in electric loads and associated carbon emissions.
Here, we show that China’s EHP will greatly increase carbon emissions. We develop a
theoretical model to quantify the carbon emissions from power generation and rural residential
heating sectors. We found that in 2015, an additional 101.69–162.89 megatons of CO2
could potentially be emitted if EHP was implemented in 45–55% of rural residents in
Northern China. In 2020, the incremental carbon emission is expected to reach
130.03–197.87 megatons. Fortunately, the growth of carbon emission will slow down due to
China’s urbanization progress. In 2030, the carbon emission increase induced by EHP will
drop to 119.19–177.47 megatons. Finally, we conclude two kinds of practical pathways toward
low-carbon electric heating, and provide techno-economic analyses.