In a stunning reversal of earlier years, China in 2022 announced, pre-permitted or permitted the building of 42 percent more coal power plant capacity than in 2021. As of January 2023, just over 250,000 megawatts were due to be built in the People’s Republic, up from around 176,000 one year earlier. At the same time, coal power plant capacity under construction in China increased by 29 percent, from around 89,500 megawatts to around 115,500 megawatts. This is according to the Global Energy Monitor.
China’s already ambitious carbon emission reduction goals are being called into question by the development. The country in 2021 pledged to end all future foreign coal power projects, but announced that it would remain committing to domestic coal expansion. At the end of the same year, China pledged to reach net zero emissions in 2060.
China has been known to grow renewables and coal power in tandem to satisfy its ever-growing need for energy. A newly released report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and the Global Energy Monitor suggests that problems with peak time energy supply in the past two years tied to heatwaves and the use of air-conditioning caused the permitting flurry despite the country’s clean energy goals. The same report concludes that the building of new coal plants does not necessarily mean that China’s power sector as a whole will become more emission-heavy as this also depends on the simultaneous growth of renewables. However, it finds that the high number of new coal power plant projects will make achieving China’s climate goals more “complicated and costly”.
Compared with other countries which are announcing and constructing new coal power plants on a large scale, China has by far the biggest projects. Also, other nations’ construction plans have either risen only slowly in capacity over the past year or even declined quite rapidly. While in India, capacity in pre-construction was up by 10 percent still, it was down by more than a third for another big player in coal, Indonesia. The picture looks similar in Bangladesh, while in Vietnam, pre-construction capacity was down by as much as 94 percent.
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