Total coal power capacity in China, 2005 to mid-2018 (blue bars), coal power capacity under development as of mid-2018 (yellow, red, and green bars), and China’s 2020 coal cap (red dotted lines). Coal power poised to be added to the China coal fleet exceeds the country’s 1100 GW cap. Data: China Electricity Council 2018; CoalSwarm, Global Coal Plant Tracker, July 2018. Graphic: CoalSwarm

By Matt McGrath
26 September 2018

(BBC News) – Building work has restarted at hundreds of Chinese coal-fired power stations, according to an analysis of satellite imagery.

The research, carried out by green campaigners CoalSwarm [pdf], suggests that 259 gigawatts of new capacity are under development in China.

The authors say this is the same capacity to produce electricity as the entire US coal fleet.

The study says government attempts to cancel many plants have failed.

According to this study, there was a surge in new coal projects approved at provincial level in China between 2014 and 2016. This happened because of a decentralisation programme that shifted authority over coal plant construction approvals to local authorities.

The report says that at present China has 993 gigawatts of coal power capacity, but the approved new plants would increase this by 25 percent.

China's central government has tried to rein in this boom by issuing suspension orders for more than 100 power plants but this analysis suggests that these efforts have been significantly less effective than previous news reports had indicated.

In this study, the researchers used satellite photos to examine every power plant that was subject to a suspension order. They found construction ongoing at many locations. [more]

China coal power building boom sparks climate warning


Currently operating coal power capacity (blue bars) and a projection of what is currently under development (yellow, red, and green bars) retired at 40 years of age will exceed the IEA’s Beyond 2°C Scenario (shaded area above black line). Coal power operating and poised to be added to the coal fleet exceeds international climate goals. Data: CoalSwarm, Global Coal Plant Tracker, July 2018; China Electricity Council 2018). Graphic: CoalSwarm

By Ted Nace
20 September 2018

(CoalSwarm) – Like an approaching tsunami triggered by a distant earthquake, a massive cohort of hundreds of new coal-fired power plants is on course to be added to the already overbuilt Chinese coal plant fleet. This wave of new capacity—comparable in size to the entire U.S. coal fleet—is the consequence of a little reported surge in permit approvals at the provincial level from late 2014 to early 2016.

While China’s central authorities have sought to mitigate the surge through a series of special regulatory measures, new satellite imagery and plant-by-plant research show the measures to have been only partially effective. Rather than cancelling unneeded coal plants, China’s officials in many cases have merely rescheduled them.

“Avoiding dangerous climate change requires essentially phasing out coal plants globally by 2045,” said Christine Shearer, researcher and analyst for CoalSwarm and lead author of the report. “China needs to begin planning for the aggressive retirement of its existing coal fleet, not building hundreds of new coal plants.”

The report, which is based on CoalSwarm’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, finds:

  • 259 Gigawatts (GW) of new capacity are under development in China, comparable to the entire U.S. coal fleet (266 GW). This represents a 25 percent increase in China’s coal power fleet. (Note: A typical coal-fired generating unit is 300–1,000 Megawatts, or 0.3–1.0 GW, in size, with most power stations having two or more such units.)
  • The new capacity is the result of a permitting surge from late 2014 to early 2016, after a regulatory devolution from central to provincial authorities.
  • In 2016 and 2017, central authorities sought to rein in the surge through a series of suspension orders.
  • Contrary to previous reporting and analysis, many of the restrictions only delayed new projects rather than stopping them.
  • China’s developmental pipeline places it on a trajectory to exceed its own announced 1100 GW coal power cap through 2020, with coal power capacity already at 993 GW in 2018.
  • Adding 259 GW of new coal power in China is wildly out of line with the Paris climate agreement. According to the IEA, a 50 percent chance of limiting future temperature increases to 1.75°C requires China phase out its traditional coal plants by 2045.
  • The surge in new projects will overwhelm China’s own 1100 GW coal cap in the country’s current Five-Year Plan.
  • Given that China’s coal fleet operates less than half the time, 259 GW additional coal power capacity is unneeded and represents US$210 billion in capital expenditures that could instead fund nearly 300 GW of solar PV or 175 GW of onshore wind power.

Examples of locations where construction is proceeding despite restrictions

Huaneng Daba-4 power station: Although it was covered by September 2017 restrictions, satellite photos show that substantial construction occurred after December 2017. Wiki page here.

Satellite view of China's Huaneng Daba-4 power station in July 2017. Although it was covered by September 2017 restrictions on coal plants, satellite photos show that substantial construction occurred after December 2017. Photo: CoalSwarm

Satellite view of China's Huaneng Daba-4 power station in March 2018. Although it was covered by September 2017 restrictions on coal plants, satellite photos show that substantial construction occurred after December 2017. Photo: CoalSwarm

[more]

NEW REPORT: Tsunami Warning — Can China’s Central Authorities Stop a Massive Surge in New Coal Plants Caused by Provincial Overpermitting?

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