As China waits for calculations on climate change goals, environmental groups are heating up for the construction of its coal-fired power plants.
China’s continued construction of coal plants has become a difficult issue for climate researchers and lobbyists as the government prepares a plan to meet President Xi Jinping’s goals. is to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality levels before 2060.
“How China resolves the apparent contradiction between its massive coal-fired power building plan and the zero-net plan could become one of the biggest challenges in its effort to curb global temperature rise. and meeting climate targets, “Reuters said.
While China should cut its coal use to meet the upcoming deadline, it is adding new coal power plants at a rate of about one per week, environmental research group Carbon Brief said.
The London-based Ember group said worldwide coal power production fell 4% last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, but China increased its thermal power output by 1.7%, making it more became the only G20 country to record a significant increase, the London-based Ember team said. electrical review.
The Global Energy Monitoring Agency (GEM) reported similar data and similar trends in its “Boom and Bust 2021” report this month.
GEM says China operated 76% of the world’s new coal plants last year, up from 64% in 2019.
According to Ember, China’s share of global coal power generation increased from 44% in 2015 to 53% last year.
Although the country has made strides in the renewable energy sector, it also boosts coal power as electricity consumption continues to increase.
China added 71.7 gigawatts (GW) of wind power and 48.2 GW of solar power by 2020, but coal capacity also increased by 38.4 GW, the survey found.
Lauri Myllyvirta of the Clean Air and Energy Research Center adds 73 GW of the new coal-fired power capacity has been approved in a carbon summary report.
New power plants are designed to stay operational for 30 to 40 years, curbing carbon emissions and challenging climate targets.
Reuters cited Ember’s report as saying that the share of coal in China’s total energy mix has fallen to 56.8%, but thermal power generation has grown by 19% between 2016 and 2020 of the Plan 5. 13th year.
Reduced carbon relative to growth
Behind the numbers are concerns that the Chinese government is missing out on the opportunity to reduce required carbon emissions under pressure to boost economic growth as the COVID crisis is under control.
Disappointment after Premier Li Keqiang presented a government work report and outlined the 14th Five-Year Plan in March, as neither of them called for the cancellation of new coal power projects until five. 2025.
Instead, the government has only promised to “reasonably control the size and speed of development in coal-fired power construction,” according to Reuters.
The government could address this later this year in an action plan aimed at reaching peak emissions by 2030, but further delay until phase of the 15th Five-Year Plan could making the goal an impossible task.
At the press conference on renewable energy development on March 30, National Energy Administration (NEA) officials clung to the script, praising China’s achievements, but not Give hints about the decision to cancel coal projects or to allow them to continue.
Between 2016 and 2020, the share of non-fossil energy consumption increased from 12.1% to 15.9%, said Li Fulong, Director of the NEA Planning and Development Department.
According to an official transcript, by 2030, the market share of non-fossils will reach “about 25%”.
In late January, the NEA was under heavy pressure from the Department of Ecology and Environment (MEE) when an environmental inspection team released a report allowing the agency to continue to allow coal-fired power projects. continue.
Due to internal divisions at the NEA, coal installations are still increasing in 12 of China’s 31 provinces and centrally run cities, the inspection team said.
Carbon Brief said in a post at the time: “Never before has a senior central government body been examined and publicly criticized for many failures related to energy development.”
The NEA was ordered to submit a “rectification plan” to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Cabinet-level State Council within 30 working days. It is not clear whether the conflict has been resolved or not.
Meanwhile, climate researchers published an in-depth study of China’s currently operating 1,037 coal plants and nearly 3,000 individual generating units, rating them against technical criteria, economic and environmental to determine which of these plants should be shut down first.
Analysis published in the journal Nature found that 18% of crops “consistently scored poorly on all three criteria and are therefore not good for quick retirement.”
The target plants account for 111 GW of capacity.
If the worst coal plants are shut down, the remainder can continue operating with a minimum lifespan of 20 to 30 years and “gradually reduce usage” to meet climate change goals with the complete elimination of coal-fired electricity is by 2045 or 2055, the study says.
The authors of the study include contributors from the University of Maryland’s Global Sustainability Center, the Taipei Electric Power University, Tsinghua University and the National Resources Defense Council in Beijing.
The proposal for retirement aims to address concerns that China’s coal plants will become trapped assets, abandoned when they no longer generate return on investment. Some factories are reported to be operating with occupancy rates as low as 50%.
While analysis may form the basis of a phased government plan, the study’s findings may be considered unreliable.
However, most of China’s coal plants are less than 15 years old, increasing the risk that many of them will have to leave before extending their expected lifespan.
The authors also concede that “the paths of retirement to be explored depend entirely on the immediate halt of new construction of coal-fired power plants in China”.
The study estimates that 100 GW of coal-fired capacity is currently under construction with an additional 160 GW planned, indicating massive damage if projects are to be stopped.
Philip Andrews-Speed, senior senior fellow at the Energy Research Institute of the National University of Singapore, expressed doubts that the government would adopt this approach.
“I think it’s largely delusional, at least in the short term,” says Andrews-Speed.
In another study published this week, London-based consulting organization TransitionZero said that China must shut down 588 coal plants over the next decade and halt new projects immediately to accommodate new Mr. Xi’s goal.
But researchers think China could save $ 1.6 trillion (10.4 trillion yuan) over 20 years by replacing coal plants with renewable energy sources.