China has continued its “permitting spree” for coal power plants that started in 2022, with 52 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power permitted in the first half of 2023, according to a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
This meant that the country maintained its previous rhythm of permitting two coal power plants per week. The report added that China commissioned 17.1 GW of coal capacity has been added to the grid during the period, which is double the capacity that started operations in the same period last year.
This is a result of the acceleration of permission for new projects and the restarting of suspended projects in 2020. Join Asian Power community GEM and CREA said the country now has 243 GW of new coal power plants under construction or given permission to start construction.
If announced plants or in the preparation stage are permitted, this could increase to 392 GW, distributed across 306 power plants. Analysis showed that most of the new projects were situated in areas where there is no need for new coal power capacity to support the grid or integration of variable renewables.
Provinces installing large amounts of coal plants are also getting most of their new power generation from coal, opposing the view that coal should serve as a supporting source for clean energy. “The coal power spree is a last-minute push by China’s coal industry to lock in capacity and emissions before China’s CO2 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.
“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,” she added. The parties said that China will fail to reduce coal power capacity under the 15th Five-Year Plan “without subsequent cancellations of already permitted projects or massive early retirement of existing plants.”
Furthermore, the report revealed that China added 17.1 GW of coal capacity to its grid, doubling the capacity compared to the same period in the previous year. This surge in capacity is attributed to the accelerated approval of new projects and the revival of previously suspended projects from 2020.
Currently, China has 243 GW of new coal power plants either under construction or granted permission for construction. If the plants in the planning stage are also permitted, this figure could rise to 392 GW, spread across 306 power plants.
It’s worth noting that most of these new coal projects are located in areas where there is no pressing need for additional coal power capacity to support the grid or the integration of renewable energy sources. This contradicts the notion that coal should play a supportive role in clean energy initiatives.
Lauri said, “The coal power spree is a last-minute push by China’s coal industry to lock in capacity and emissions before China’s CO2 emissions are due to peak late this decade. This is happening even as clean energy installations are rapidly expanding.
“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.”
The report suggests that China will struggle to reduce coal power capacity in line with its 15th Five-Year Plan unless it cancels already permitted projects or undertakes massive early retirements of existing coal plants.