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Coal Power Plants Creeps Back; Climate Change Ambitions

More coal-fired power plants are being built in China and approving more new mines. This is despite assurances from the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter that it was sincere about fighting climate change.

China’s 2021-2030 policy plans are under inspections as the UN’s climate change conference gets underway in Madrid. Also, the UN report said the world needs to decrease carbon dioxide by 7.6% a year over the decade to restrict temperature rises.

Contrary to the country’s economic growth at its slowest in almost 30 years, industry data and industry officials recommend a willingness to lean on coal for power.

Beijing pledged to show the highest possible ambition when updating its emissions pledges next year. Also, it did not commit to more tough targets. Contrarily, it built 42.9 GW of new coal-fired power capacity since the beginning of last year, with another 121 GW under construction.

In 2017, there are 35 GW of coal-fired power and 38 GW in 2016. 

Although there are no available net figures, regulators also approved 40 new mines with almost 200 tons of annual capacity in the first three quarters of 2019. In 2018, there are 25 million tons.

Major state-owned utilities want to drop as much of a third of their older and less-useful coal-fired capacity to cut debt. Also, even they go ahead, the cuts will be outweighed by newer capacity.

In October, Premier Li urged energy officials to endorse clean mining and coal-fired power. Ambitious recommendations to cap CO2 and fossil fuel use are not expected to be included in the 2021-2025 plan.

China brought down carbon intensity by 45.8 from 2015-2018, beating its target by two years. Some reports say it could bring CO2 emissions to highest by 2022, eight years ahead.


Coal Power Plants Still not Enough for Supply

A concern remains the economic fortunes of coal regions such as Shanxi, which still depends on the fuel for half its works and 80% of its energy.

A scholar at a provincial government said Shanxi’s economy depends heavily on coal is impossible to change in the coming years. He refused to be named because of the sensitive matter.

The debate mostly centers on how well renewables can supply dependable baseload power to China in the future. Also, how it can support initiatives such as vehicle electrification.

According to a research institute of the State Grid Corporation, China will need 1,250 GW to 1,400 GW of coal-fired power. This is to guarantee stable electricity supplies, increased from around 1,00 GW now.

The U.S.-based NRDC with the senior adviser said the debate relied on electricity demand reports. These are the annual growth of less than 4.5% that would need no new coal plants.

Also, some policymakers argued capacity is sufficient, with existing plants capable of giving more power. The amount of new approvals recommends the government will make a mistake on the side of caution.

The Dean of the China Institute for Energy Policy Studies said coal is still a major resource. Thus, they will continue to depend on it when needed. Right now, the economy is slowing, and renewables are still relatively weak.

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