Renewables Boom as China Halts or Eliminates Another 170 Gigawatts of Coal Power Plants

On Monday, China announced that it was halting or delaying another 150 gigawatts worth of new coal power plant construction through 2020. In addition, the world’s largest coal user also announced that it would eliminate 20 gigawatts of present coal burning capacity. These moves come on the back of China’s previous cancellation and closure of 103 coal-fired plants coordinate with three consecutive years of falling coal consumption from 2014 through 2016.

(China’s annual CO2 emissions primarily come from coal use. Rapidly reducing that coal use is essential to addressing global climate change. Image source: NRDC.)

According to the China News press release, the move was aimed at both avoiding overcapacity and ensuring a cleaner energy mix. China’s National Development Reform Commission went on to state that: “New capacity will be strictly controlled. All illegal coal-burning power projects will be halted.”

China alone burns about half of all the coal converted into carbon dioxide each year globally. So if the world is to effectively address climate change, then China’s massive coal consumption needs to start tapering downward. And the faster it does, the better things will be for us all. Outwardly, the country appears dedicated both to the notion of becoming a global climate leader while also working to address its serious air and water pollution issues. And to the latter point, China plans to revamp its existing coal plants in order to lower harmful particulate emissions. Digging a bit deeper we find that a worrisome high level of coal burning is slated to remain in place at least over the next decade. Even if the trend is moving in a generally helpful direction and even as renewable energy platforms popping up across China may enable the country to further cut its harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

(China’s coal targets through 2020 show continued steady reductions. Image source: NRDC.)

China’s move to halt or eliminate 170 gigawatts of coal burning follows a larger plan to keep total coal capacity below 1,100 gigawatts by 2020. How much below is still somewhat up in the air. But it’s worth noting that present coal burning capacity in China is 900 gigawatts and the best news for all involved would be if this capacity did not increase and that China’s rate of overall coal use continued to fall. This action is in keeping with a stated goal to reduce coal’s portion of the Chinese electrical power supply to 58 percent by the same year (down from 70 percent in 2010).

It’s a trend that follows major renewable energy build outs. A build that, taking into account China’s past economic over-achievements could accelerate to replace coal capacity at a faster than expected pace. Solar alone is well ahead of plan and is now expected to reach 230 gigawatts worth of capacity by 2020. Meanwhile, China is on track to have about 250 gigawatts of wind capacity installed by the same year. But there, too, an acceleration in off-shore wind capacity that could spike this number may also be in the offing. And as of August, China was selling about 45,000 zero-emitting electrical vehicles each month with a goal to have around 3 million EVs per year by 2020.

All serious trends that will, hopefully, further accelerate China’s rate of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Given Trump’s various attempts to sabotage Obama’s positive legacy of climate response and renewable energy production here in the U.S., somebody in the world needs to take the role of global climate leader. Trump’s vacuous vision and overtly divisive nature has given China the opportunity to step it up.


China Halts Building Coal Power Plants


Global and China Wind Turbine Industry Report 2016-2020

China’s Strict Electric Car Quotas

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  1. Jimbot

     /  August 18, 2017

    Thanks for this great report, RS. China has had electric drive technology working for years, in bicycles and scooters.

    Regarding Obama’s great job on climate change, I guess we can overlook that little fracking episode?

    • Well, Jim, sorry to say that this comment is pretty uninformed.

      Obama was a rather quiet operator. So most people who don’t do the research really have no idea what he did. Of course, as President, he faced a republican congress for 2/3 of his time in office. This congress worked as hard as it could to block positive democratic initiatives.

      It did not, however, prevent Obama from using the EPA in an attempt to limit fracking. In 2015, Obama’s Clean Water Rule gave environmentalists and anti-fracking advocates ammunition in their fight against expanded fracking across the U.S. The rule put a damper on rampant fracking and began to help to reign in the worst abuses despite lawsuits undermining the rule coming from many states. The Clean Water Rule was similar to the Clean Power Plan in that it exposed the limits of executive power. However, the rule was definitely a positive step in the right direction.

      Of course, now that we have Trump instead of Hillary, the Clean Water Rule has been revoked by Scott Pruitt’s EPA:

      I’ve generally found that those who attack Obama in this way are operating on very low information. Of course, Obama was not the absolute perfect Green president anyone could possibly imagine. However, looking at history, Obama promoted more in the way of renewable energy, more in the way of carbon emissions reduction, and more positive environmental regulations than any other past U.S. president. So to attack him in this regard and without qualification is both baseless and entirely disingenuous.

  2. Abel Adamski

     /  August 18, 2017

    JAXA has now included Global Sea Ice cover on its charts as well as Arctic and Antarctic, plus added the 2010 average

  3. Abel Adamski

     /  August 18, 2017

    But seriously this is all just another conspiracy, just like the eclipse conspiracy, what they don’t want you to know,

  4. climatehawk1

     /  August 18, 2017


  5. Abel Adamski

     /  August 18, 2017

    An interesting article
    Pumped hot water providing heat for German city dwellings

    Vattenfall communal heating network taps into German cities’ growth

    from the article (previous one was about increasing landslides etc in Africa)

    With one third of all electricity produced in Germany already coming from renewables, the country is next looking to reform residential heating, which accounts for 40 percent of energy-derived carbon dioxide emissions.

    Communal, or district, heating networks – which generate heat in central plants and pump hot water into homes via underground networks – will play a central role in that switch and are part of a long tradition in Germany and Nordic countries.

    District heating systems typically are fired by so-called Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants which generate electricity as well as heat, in a process that is much more efficient than pure power generation plants, which typically lose up to two thirds of the energy they use as waste heat.

    Vattenfall’s CHP plants in Berlin will gradually switch from coal to gas, and eventually they will use surplus electricity from wind turbines.

    In February, Vattenfall decided to invest in a new gas-fired plant in the Marzahn district, it stopped burning coal in its Klingenberg plant in May and changed to gas, and in June it said its Spandau plant will switch from coal to gas and wind from 2020.

    Vattenfall sold its brown-coal burning German power plants last year and aims to become coal-free in Germany by 2030.

    The company also plans to channel more waste heat from industry to its district heating plants.

    What you could call good old Teutonic efficiency

  6. wpNSAlito

     /  August 18, 2017

    Does that China coal-use chart just cover electricity generation or does it include residential and industrial coal burning?

    I remember from Chai Jing’s “Under the Dome” (2015) presentation a description of both residential and industrial coal burning.

    Here’s the whole thing, with English subtitles. I recommend watching *any ten minutes* of the video to get a taste of how the growing middle class of China is starting to focus on pollution as Americans did in the 1970s.

  7. wili

     /  August 18, 2017

    Poland storms kill six, destroy tens of thousands of trees

  8. wili

     /  August 18, 2017

    How reliable do you think stats coming out of China are?

    • Given the fact that import and mining stats for the most part jibe with the internal use stats, then relatively accurate. It’s worth noting that the high rate of atmospheric CO2 gain during 2014-2016 can be attributed to tropical feedbacks related to El Nino. Note that the same thing happened during the 1998 El Nino. There appears to be some suspicion that global carbon emissions are vastly under reported. Though there might be some under-reporting, it’s not likely to be as bad as during the mid 2000s. The effects are likely to be marginal overall. The larger trend for China is concerted movement away from coal.

  9. wili

     /  August 18, 2017

    Somewhat off topic, but perhaps not entirely—Bannon is out now. Three advisory councils have disbanded after mass defections of business leaders. Gore is now calling on Trump to resign. Are we finally seeing the beginning of the end of Trump at POTUS and of his geo-cidal policies and constant lies and hate mongering?

    • Bannon will probably attack him from Brietbart. Trump’s pissed off McConnell and about 5,000 other prominent republicans. He’s sabotaged the legislative agenda with his bombast, inability to work as a team player, and continuous attacks on anyone who criticizes or disagrees with him. He appears to have obviously colluded with Russia (and continues to use Russia sourced misinformation). He’s created more crisis than there needed to be with North Korea (that was going to be sticky, but Trump just adds fuel to the fire). He’s pissed off our allies. And he’s fanned the flames of Nazism and white supremacy from the Presidential podium. Not that Pence will be much better. And not that we won’t have similar issues with him on slow boil as well. But, yeah, the maniac is basically a lame duck loud mouth with a megaphone now. He just keeps creating enemies within his own party which isn’t helping prospects for his presidential lifespan.

      In any case, his response to Charlottesville was a resign moment for me as well:

      All I have to say is — good for Gore.

  10. 12volt dan

     /  August 21, 2017

    China also has a high speed rail system ahead of most other countries and is expanding.
    I’m a little pressed for time so I haven’t found whether this line is electric or not but they do have a mag lev train in service and according to Wiki is the fastest in the world.

    This has impacted the commercial air traffic on inter city links since the people like the smoother, more comfortable ride.


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