China fires up giant coal power plant in face of calls for cuts

China, under fire for approving new coal power stations as other countries try to curb greenhouse gases, has completed the first 1,000-megawatt unit of the Shanghaimiao plant, the biggest of its kind under construction in the country.

A report published this month by researchers at China’s State Grid Corporation said energy security concerns mean the country is likely to build as much as 150 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity over the 2021-2025 period, bringing the [country’s] total to 1,230 GW.

This would be a 14% increase (150/(1230-150)).

Coal power’s sharp rebound is taking it to a new record in 2021, threatening net zero goals

After falling in 2019 and 2020, global power generation from coal is expected to jump by 9% in 2021 to an all-time high.

Depending on weather patterns and economic growth, overall coal demand could reach new all-time highs as soon as 2022 and remain at that level for the following two years.

The rebound is being driven by 2021’s rapid economic recovery, which has pushed up electricity demand much faster than low-carbon supplies can keep up. The steep rise in natural gas prices has also increased demand for coal power by making it more cost-competitive.

Overall coal demand worldwide – including uses beyond power generation, such as cement and steel production – is forecast to grow by 6% in 2021. Coal prices reached all-time highs in early October 2021.

“Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net-zero,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.”

In China, where more than half of global coal power generation takes place, it is expected to grow by 9% in 2021. In India, it is forecast to grow by 12%. This would set new all-time highs in both countries, even as they roll out impressive amounts of solar and wind capacity.

“Asia dominates the global coal market, with China and India accounting for two-thirds of overall demand.” said Keisuke Sadamori, Director of Energy Markets and Security at the IEA. “These two economies – dependent on coal and with a combined population of almost 3 billion people – hold the key to future coal demand.”

The Expanding Coal Power Fleet in Southeast Asia

Coal combustion for power generation made up 30% of global CO2 emissions in 2018. To achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep global average temperatures below 2°C, power generation must be decarbonized globally by mid-century. This requires a rapid phase-out of coal-fired power generation. However, global coal power expansion continues, mostly in developing countries where electricity demand continues to increase. Since the early 2010s, Southeast Asia’s coal power capacity expansion has been among the fastest in the world, following China and India, but its implications for the global climate and regional energy transition remain understudied. Here we examine Southeast Asia’s power generation pipeline as of mid-2020 and evaluate its implications for the region’s CO2 emissions over the plant lifetime as well as projected electricity generation between 2020-2030 in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. We find that power plants under construction and planned in Southeast Asia as of 2020 will more than double the region’s fossil fuel power generation capacity. If all fossil fuel plants under development are built, Southeast Asia’s power sector CO2 emissions will increase by 72% from 2020 to 2030 and long-term committed emissions will double. Moreover, in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, projected electricity generation from fossil fuel plants under development, combined with generation from renewable capacity targets and existing power capacity, will exceed future national electricity demand. As a result, fossil fuel plants will likely be underutilized and/or become stranded assets while also potentially crowding out renewable energy deployment.

The world is burning the most coal ever to keep the lights on

The world likely will generate more electricity from the dirtiest source this year than ever before, indicating just how far the energy transition still needs to run in the fight against climate change.

Coal-fueled generation is set to jump 9% from last year, according to an International Energy Agency report released Friday.

The U.S. and European Union had the biggest increases in coal use at about 20% each, followed by India at 12% and China—the world’s largest consumer—at 9%, the IEA estimated. The comeback is being driven by economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, which is outpacing the ability of low-carbon energy sources to maintain supply.