In September of 2021 China suffered a wave of blackouts due to coal supply shortages, cutting off electricity to thousands of homes and factories. In 2022, a long drought caused a dramatic drop in hydropower production resulting in rationing of electricity in China. And now in 2023 they have rescinded their zero-COVID policy and are trying to rejuvenate their economy, alleviate their electricity shortages by bringing on a surge of coal-fired power plants along with renewables. They are permitting two new coal-fired power plants every week.
Late 2022, China approved the construction of an additional 168 coal-fired plants to provide 106 GW of coal-fired capacity, six times more than all of the rest of the world combined.
Despite global promises to phase down coal-fired capacity, the global coal fleet grew by 19.5 GW or 1% in 2022, China was a major contributor.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is retiring coal-fired capacity, nearly 12 GW in 2022 alone, with another 10 GW to be phased out by 2028. Between 2011 to 2020, 68% of the total U.S. coal-fired capacity was retired.
European industries and manufacturing plants are shutting down as energy costs become too much for the businesses to bear. there is a growing concern that the U.S. will become uncompetitive with the Chinese industrial might, if we continue on the same path.
President Xi has pledged that China will reduce its coal consumption in the 2026–30 period. But since China’s power system remains dependent on coal power capacity and they continue to increase their coal-fired capacity, this seems doubtful.
Environmentalists fear the pressure for China to make use of their newly built coal power plants will lead to moderation or even abandonment of China’s clean energy buildout. This will result in a major increase in China’s CO2 emissions over this decade and undermine global climate efforts. This belief is reinforced by China’s coal-fired retirement slow down, only 4.1 GW of coal-fired capacity closed down in 2022, compared with 5.2 GW in 2021. In fact, their policies have been revised to keep the small and inefficient plants operating, justified as either back-up or in some cases as normal operation, due to their retrofit.