September 3, 2023 - China is continuing a coal-fired power plant permitting spree that began in 2022, despite its net-zero commitments. According to analysis from Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), the government is permitting the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants per week.
The first half of 2023 saw 52GW of new coal power permitted in China, despite the Chinese Government having pledged to peak emissions by 2030, with the aim of reaching net zero by 2060.
China started approving a series of coal-fired power plants in 2022 after regional power crunches. In 2022, 50GW of coal power capacity began construction and 106GW of new projects were permitted.
According to the analysis: “Unless permitting is stopped immediately, China won’t be able to reduce coal-fired power capacity during the 15th five-year plan (2026–30) without subsequent cancellations of already permitted projects or massive early retirement of existing plants.”
China’s renewable sector has also seen significant advancements. China is the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, a position it has held for more than a decade.
China is, however, the world’s largest carbon emitter and was responsible for almost a third of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.
“The coal power spree is a last-minute push by China’s coal industry to lock in capacity and emissions before China’s CO? emissions are due to peak late this decade. This is happening even as clean energy installations are rapidly expanding,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, co-author of the report and lead analyst at CREA, in a press release.
“China is on track to start delivering all of electricity consumption growth from solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower, leaving no space for power generation from coal to grow”.
China is currently on track to shatter its own renewable installation targets by 2030. The country’s wind and solar capacity will reach the targeted 1.2TW in 2025 if growth continues at current rates.
Interconnectivity problems between regional grids and power supply challenges have resulted in the continued use of fossil fuels for grid stability. However, according to the GEM and CREA report, “none of the official reasons given for new projects pan out”.
“60% of new coal power projects are in grid regions where there is already an excess of coal-fired power capacity,” the report continues.
Despite continued coal permitting, President Xi Jinping has promised to reduce coal consumption within the 2026–30 period.