Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China Is Wrong
By Melanie Hart, Luke Bassett, and Blaine Johnson Posted on May 15, 2017, 12:01 am
See also: “Research Note on U.S. and Chinese Coal-Fired Power Data” by Melanie Hart, Luke Bassett, and Blaine Johnson
China’s energy markets send mixed signals about the nation’s policy intentions and emissions trajectory. Renewable energy analysts tend to focus on China’s massive renewable expansion and view the nation as a global clean energy leader; coal proponents and climate skeptics are more likely to focus on the number of coal plants in China—both in operation and under construction—and claim its climate rhetoric is more flash than substance.
In December 2016, the Center for American Progress brought a group of energy experts to China to find out what is really happening. We visited multiple coal facilities—including a coal-to-liquids plant—and went nearly 200 meters down one of China’s largest coal mines to interview engineers, plant managers, and local government officials working at the front lines of coal in China.
We found that the nation’s coal sector is undergoing a massive transformation that extends from the mines to the power plants, from Ordos to Shanghai. China is indeed going green. The nation is on track to overdeliver on the emissions reduction commitments it put forward under the Paris climate agreement, and making coal cleaner is an integral part of the process.
China is greening its coal fleet
Beijing is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, China cannot eradicate coal-fired power from its energy mix overnight. China has not yet figured out how to develop its own natural gas supplies—which are more difficult to access and therefore more expensive than those in the United States—and renewable energy expansion takes time. On the other hand, Chinese citizens are demanding cleaner air, and they want immediate improvements. Air quality is now a political priority for the Chinese Communist Party on par with economic growth and corruption. This means that China cannot continue to run the same high-pollution coal plants that were considered acceptable decades ago. Beijing’s solution is to move full speed ahead with renewables while simultaneously investing in what may become the most efficient, least polluting coal fleet the world has ever seen.
Not all coal-fired power is created equal. Emissions and efficiency—the latter being the amount of coal consumed per unit of power produced, which also affects emissions—vary dramatically based on the type of coal and coal-burning technology used. What many U.S. analyses of China’s coal sector overlook is the fact that Beijing has been steadily shutting down the nation’s older, low-efficiency, and high-emissions plants to replace them with new, lower-emitting coal plants that are more efficient that anything operating in the United States.
The Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta in 2003, the same John Podesta who later went on to run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Podesta has been associated with the Clintons since at least the mid 90s.
I find it fascinating that such a well connected left wing organisation has made such an effort to sing the praises of Chinese coal.
The argument that China has no choice other than to use coal for the time being, because they don’t have access to easily recoverable gas like the USA does, is utter nonsense. Even if China does have more difficulty accessing gas than the USA, if China really wanted to cut CO2 emissions, they could simply expand their already substantial zero emissions nuclear fleet.