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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.

Links:

China Halts Building Coal Power Plants

NRDC

Global and China Wind Turbine Industry Report 2016-2020

China’s Strict Electric Car Quotas

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