China is building coal power again

From China Dialog

Feng Hao 28.09.2018

Experts are calling for the government to return to cutting capacity after policy reversal, reports Feng Hao

Will this year’s sudden leap in demand for power end China’s two-year policy of reducing coal-power capacity? (Image: V.T. Polywoda)

*Updated Sept. 27
CoalSwarm published a report on September 26 warning that 259 gigawatts of coal power capacity – equivalent to the entire coal power fleet of the United States – is being built in China despite government policies restricting new builds.
This blog reported last month that China was building 46 gigawatts of coal power that had been shelved or suspended, and which was discovered by CoalSwarm through an analysis of satellite imagery.

The new estimate by CoalSwarm takes the 46 gigawatts found by satellite imagery and adds other projects in the pre-construction/construction phase, as well as 57 gigawatts of shelved projects that seem likely to go online in the near future.

Professor Yuan Jiahai of North China Electric Power University told chinadialogue that China loosened its restrictions on new coal-fired power construction in five provinces earlier this year. He is confident that China can keep its total coal power capacity within the 1100-gigawatt ceiling announced in the 13th Five-Year Plan, which runs through to 2020.
However, China’s coal power capacity already stands at 993 gigawatts, leading CoalSwarm to warn that the sector’s resurgence is wildly out of line with the Paris Agreement, which commits countries to limiting the average global temperature rise from climate change by 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period.

Facts on the ground

Satellite imagery reveals that many coal-fired power projects that were halted by the Chinese government have quietly restarted.

Analysis by CoalSwarm estimates that 46.7 gigawatts of new and restarted coal-fired power construction is visible based on satellite imagery supplied by Planet Labs. The coal-fired power plants are either generating power or will soon be operational. If all the plants reach completion they would increase China’s coal-fired power capacity by 4%.
One of the biggest issues facing China’s coal sector since 2016 has been too much generating capacity, not too little. So what changed?

Demand for coal-power rebounds

Recently published economic data for the first half of 2018, along with the latest policy adjustments, indicate that China’s power demand is rebounding.

Li Fulong, head of the department of development and planning at the National Energy Administration, said at a press conference on July 30 that coal consumption in China increased about 3.1% in the first half of 2018 compared with the same period last year. The main driver of that was coal-fired power generation. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show a leap of 9.4% in electricity use across the same period.

Meanwhile, the arrival of summer has led to temporary electricity shortages in many regions, with reports of power demand outstripping supply in Shandong, Henan, Hunan, Hubei and Zhejiang provinces. In Shandong the shortfall was estimated at three gigawatts.

This has resulted in a loosening of policy-level restrictions on the coal power sector. In May 2018 the National Energy Administration permitted Shaanxi, Hubei, Jiangxi and Anhui to restart construction of coal-fired power stations. Restrictions were also relaxed to some degree in four other provinces.

“A rebound in industrial demand for electricity seems to have shifted attitudes among policy-makers, who are now more accepting of overcapacity,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, energy analyst with Greenpeace.

Yuan Jiahai, a professor at North China Electric Power University, said that some plants are almost complete but not generating power or making money, while loans taken out still need repaying. This has led companies and local governments, which are under pressure to get projects operational, to lobby for a change in policy.
A coal-fired power station in Henan province (Image: Planet Labs)

A lack of policy focus

The focus of the past two years has been on cutting capacity in the coal sector prompted by concerns about its rapid expansion and contribution to air pollution.

Power-hungry sectors such as construction grew rapidly early in the century, and by 2013 China had experienced 12 years of breakneck growth in consumption of coal and power. This led to overinvestment in coal power throughout the country and ultimately overcapacity and financial risk.

That blind expansion also worsened air pollution, and in some regions caused water shortages. The Chinese government was forced, for both economic and environmental reasons, to rein in the coal-power sector.

In April 2016 the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration – the country’s top economic planning and energy regulation authorities respectively – issued a joint document instructing provinces to limit total coal-fired power capacity. Almost half of all China’s provinces were told to postpone the construction of new coal-fired power projects. In 2017 the State Energy Administration again halted work on over 100 plants that were under construction.

Read the full story here.

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Zig Zag Wanderer
December 9, 2018 2:04 pm

I’m sure they’ll be paying their dues to the rest of the world for all the carbon (sic) they’re spewing…


December 9, 2018 2:06 pm

China is very sensible in building modern high tech coal fired power stations.

The energy demand is there, and is usually met by thousands of low tech boiler systems burning low grade coal under non-ideal conditions. Ten years ago every large hotel, every factory, every rural household, every sizeable farm had its own coal fired boiler.

A modern, clean burning (relatively) high tech power station and an electrical distribution grid is a far preferable system.

michael hart
Reply to  markx
December 9, 2018 2:41 pm

Yes, markx, that was what I was thinking. It could be one measure that China adopts to mitigate their air pollution problems. I certainly hope so, but I also read that China’s bureaucratic problems are equal to many proposed solutions.

What I am confident about, is that Western NGOs with their preferred solutions are not only not solutions, but will be politely treated with the utter contempt they deserve. I mean, when I read about a comment from somebody with the job title of “energy analyst with Greenpeace” I know it’s time to click on the next story. It’s like listening to a pork-bellies futures analysis from a wolf all dressed up like your grandmother…

Paul r
Reply to  michael hart
December 9, 2018 4:43 pm

You know my grandmother?

Alan Tomalty
Reply to  michael hart
December 10, 2018 7:33 am

And we don’t see any greenies protesting in Tiananmen square. In fact greenies never even mention the word “China” unless it is to praise them. Actually I am praising China in one respect. The atmosphere needs more CO2 not less so what the Chinese are doing with coal is good.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  michael hart
December 23, 2018 1:09 pm

For some reason wolfes stopped dressing like your grandmother.

They prefer furs. Since.

Jon O Beard
Reply to  markx
December 10, 2018 5:50 am

I wonder why building modern high tech coal fired power stations in China is sensible while doing it in the US is criminal.

Tom Halla
December 9, 2018 2:10 pm

It would appear that the PRC does not accept the claim that wind and solar are cheaper than coal, or at least on the grid.

R Shearer
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 9, 2018 2:23 pm

Solar works great on the dozen or so sunny days.

Kevin A
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 9, 2018 2:27 pm

I doubt you’d get much power in Beijing

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Kevin A
December 10, 2018 2:32 pm

Beijing air quality is quite good. Don’t believe what you see on the BBC. Listen to someone who works there.

You can see the air quality index on line. It is updated every few minutes. Also see the readings at the US Embassy on line.

Lee L
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 10, 2018 6:18 am

The greens of late are touting China as the new green leader, no longer building coal plants.
It used to be true that you could state that China was bringing a new coal fired electric plant onstream every 5 days. Greens I have talked to about that were shocked. They truly didnt know the pace of expansion in the PRC.
This statistic often came in the midst of activist speeches about lowering automobile emissions by 20 percent by using public transit. (Seemingly, diesel buses use no fossil fuel in these analyses).
So 20 percent of what? Well, in my city there are 1.6 million motor vehicles and the public transit authority claims that each one emits 4 tons of CO2 per annum, so that’s 4×1.6 million tons, or 6.4 million tons per annum. Modern coal fired plats are going to push 15-20 million tons CO2 per annum. Ok so ditch your cars and offset 1/3 of ONE Chinese coal fired electric plant. I’m sure they will follow suit.

Reply to  Lee L
December 10, 2018 7:04 am

They are going to be very upset with China after COP24 it has basically made sure all social equality outcomes are simply a preamble they no longer form part of future COP negotiations. China was vexed with the Human Rights issue along with Indigenous Peoples issues (due to Tibet) so when it was moved by USA and others to sideline all these issues it couldn’t vote fast enough.

Socialist greenies are not happy

“social dimension of climate action has been systemically stripped out of most relevant aspects of the Paris Agreement implementing guideline.”

December 9, 2018 2:26 pm

It’s not so much China loosening policies…as it’s China has very little control at all over most of these provinces
…and if they decide to do something….like build a coal plant…they do

Don K
December 9, 2018 2:32 pm

the sector’s resurgence is wildly out of line with the Paris Agreement,

As I understand it, China is a “developing economy” notwithstanding it having the second largest national GDP on the planet. Being a developing economy, China has no obligations under the Paris Climate treaty. And with wage levels perhaps 20% or 25% those in developed countries, it really does need to continue growing rapidly if its citizens are to have a comfortable standard of living. You’d think that crackerjack Western economists could figure out that China considers the welfare of its people to be of greater importance than controlling CO2 emissions.

AFAICS, you’d be wrong.

Reply to  Don K
December 9, 2018 3:57 pm

The “developing country” line is pure BS. Every economy that’s healthy is developing. How the world bought into this line is another measure of how well the AGW perpetrators are at propaganda. What they are really saying is move industry to X country, lose your standard of living, and grow theirs. It’s the truth about so called “globalization” that is denied behind obfuscation Successful countries shouldn’t be paying the price to rescue poor government, ideology, and corruption.

Rod Evans
December 9, 2018 2:47 pm

The renewable advocates claim that, wind and bio is a lower cost option for electricity production than fossil fuels is blown out of the water by the Chinese pragmatism. If renewable options truly were lower cost, China would be utilising it, as a priority. They don’t rely on renewables because it is an unreliable option and is too unstable to support a high energy economy.

Flight Level
December 9, 2018 3:14 pm

Speaking of what I witness… We, on the “old continent” drove our industry out and away by a system of creative taxes and various overcosts.
Amongst all bills, all we can afford are cheap consumer goods. Which we are unable to produce. Just walk in any popular store and find out for yourself. Most is made in China even if cleverly disguised by importers. Cheep calls for cheaper.
Flashy new cars are on credit, the preowned automobile market is beyond saturation by seized for unpaid leasing/credit drives.
Poverty is ramping-up. Energy spiraling costs impact the food chain.
Politicians wanted to go high, too high for their enveloppe. The overweight Euro Zone has deeply stalled and in a developing flat-spin.
Still those at the commands can’t assess the situation and pull the yoke. An excellent display of total lack of economic skills. Lower the nose, ease the burden on the free-market industry, the only way to pick-up economic speed and avoid the looming social unrest.
Green sugar-coating won’t help. We’re bingo fuel, engines about to flame out, in a flat spin towards disruptive poverty.

December 9, 2018 3:16 pm

Any news coming out of China needs to be taken with a yuge grain of salt.

December 9, 2018 3:28 pm

The fact that 1.3 billion Chinese are deeply dependent on a mineral energy resource from a country of less than 25 million should deeply worry every Australian. And that dependence is increasing far into this still young century.
Is it any wonder the Chinese need the Aussies’ ally and world’s only naval superpower to commit economic suicide?
And the Chinese are playing the long game… for The Win.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
December 10, 2018 8:25 am

Finally, the meat of the issue. China is an aspiring superpower. China wishes to challenge the US and its allies much as the Soviet Union once did. This is classic Power Transition theory (AFK Organski).

Even Obama recognized what was going on with his “pivot” to Asia. We are really in the beginning stages of China’s challenge. The only question is, will China ever equal or surpass the US. I doubt it, as their demographics are increasingly unfavorable, and their economic success is built on a mountain of unpayable debt.

That’s not to say they won’t try, which is why you’ll see them build as much power generation as they deem necessary. Concerns about climate are not an issue for them, even if they believed AGW was a threat, which they do not.

December 9, 2018 3:32 pm

This nonsense about China and many other countries being classified as developing countries thus under KYOTO and the recent Paris agreement avoid all the restriction s levied against Western countries is a joke.

Take a look at 19th century UK. At about 1900 it had about the same mix of super rich well off middle class and a lot of people living in poverty . Yet it was classified as not only a first world nation, it was the Worlds number one nation.

Its a sick joke to keep referring to countries such as India and China as developing countries, we are all developing economies and thus countries.

Fairs fair, if we must all cut Carbon as per the IPCC, hen it must apply to all countries.


Greg Cavanagh
December 9, 2018 4:24 pm

Jean-Michel Jarre – The Concerts In China 1981.
In this music DVD, he states that his concert needed so much power, that the officials shut power off to the city to run his concert. Obviously, the city wasn’t getting much power by comparison, back then.

December 9, 2018 4:27 pm

Sounds like time to invest in Australian coal.

Reply to  ATheoK
December 9, 2018 5:56 pm

ATHeoK…Sounds like time to invest in Australian coal…
Problem is, as you are probably aware, that Our Federal and State Governments…and the opposition parties…and the bureaucracy…and so much of of our media are committed to legislation, regulation and reporting that strangles and sledges The King at every opportunity.
Coal would be a top notch and ethical investment…how many billions of people are still without electricity… but it would be a risk to invest your retirement funding given that its competitors are given so many taxpayer funded free kicks and contracts that push them to the front of the queue and block Coal at every turn.
And, with the likelihood of a change in Federal government to the ALP with their ludicrous 50% renewable bandits by 2050, the blatant promotion of Wind and Solar at the highest level shall get worse. Coal Demonisation continues flat out.

December 9, 2018 4:47 pm

No, not again, they never stopped. The leader of China smiles, asks”Have you stopped beating your wife?” as he beats his to death with a bamboo baton.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 10, 2018 12:32 am

The climate leader, China, leads in emissions.

Reply to  Hugs
December 10, 2018 7:33 am

All the while smiling and lying to everyone. Hell, Xi stands in a room full of other nation’s leaders and smilingly tells each one a totally different lie on the same subject right in front of all the others, turns to the next and repeats. This is how Chinese leaders have always dealt with “barbarians”, lie, prevaricate, obfuscate, deflect rinse and repeat. And not just the top, their entire system, even after communism, has always been based on never being honest and direct with anyone outside of family, clan, village etc etc.

Dan Evens
Reply to  2hotel9
December 10, 2018 6:09 am

This is exactly what I was going to say. They never stopped building coal plants. Near as I can tell what they did was slow down, slightly, on starts of new coal construction.

The only good news is, they have not let up on building nuclear. They have something in the neighborhood of 20 nuclear power reactors under construction right now. And when those are finished the plan is to move one space over and build 20 more. And after those, 20 more. Some time in the next 10 to 20 years they will have more nuclear plants than the US. It would be faster, except they can only train engineers and technicians so quickly.

Reply to  Dan Evens
December 10, 2018 7:21 am

The leaders of China have always smiled and agreed with what western leaders say and then do whatever they want anyway. We should be doing the same.

December 9, 2018 4:48 pm

I didn’t think they ever stopped building them. In my trips there you saw them under construction almost everywhere you traveled.

Patrick MJD
December 9, 2018 7:20 pm

Well according to all the propaganda in the Australian MSM, the Chinese are building more and more renewables. Seems to conflict with reality.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 9, 2018 7:35 pm

The build more renewables, alright. But they don’t necessarily hook them up to the power network. Too disruptive. Besides, they serve their purpose just by stating that they are there.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2018 7:11 am

Fake News always lies, does not matter what country it is in.

Tom Abbott
December 10, 2018 5:17 am

It looks to me like China’s leadership would be willing to entertain the idea of replacing their coal-fired powerplants with nuclear powerplants.

Obviously some powerful people in the Chinese goverment have a desire to cut back on building coal-fired powerplants.

Alarmists have a desire to reduce CO2 production.

Alarmists should lobby China and India to switch their focus from coal powerplants to nuclear powerplants. They might have a receptive audience.

Nuclear powerplants don’t produce CO2 and provide plenty of electrical power 24 hours a day. Win! Win! for those concerned about CO2, and for those concerned about providing adequate electrical power to their people.

Alan Tomalty
December 10, 2018 7:28 am

It is nice that WUWT always puts related articles from the past below it’s articles. In this one a related article from 2015 about coal use in China by Larry Kummer once again shows that Larry Kummer is usually wrong.

December 11, 2018 6:29 am

The central government is trying to close uneconomic coal plants but some of the regional governments are resisting.

Meanwhile in the US young Americans don’t seem at all keen on Trump’s pro coal advocacy. I wonder why that could be?

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
December 13, 2018 5:43 am

No, liar, they are building more coal fired plants.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 13, 2018 5:54 am

Why am I a liar?

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
December 13, 2018 6:01 am

Because you lie, duh. Even you can’t be this stupid. China never stopped building coal fired plants, and has only closed down ones replaced by new. But hey! Keep repeating their lies, it is all you got.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 13, 2018 6:09 am

Read it properly – I said the regional governments are disobeying central government orders not to build new power stations. At what age did yoy finish school?

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
December 13, 2018 6:18 am

And that is the lie! The Central Government dictates what is done, and it dictates that coal fired plants be built. The Central Government lies to everyone outside of China, and you facilitate their lies by repeating them. Please, do so again. Prove, yet again, to the world what a liar you are.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 13, 2018 6:28 am

The only liar here the liar-in-chief Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States. He has told some real whoppers.

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
December 13, 2018 6:32 am

Ahhh, now you gonna cry?!?!? Wipe those tears away! Just keep repeating the lies that comfort you so much, we will just keep laughing at you. China never stopped building coal fired plants and never had any intention of doing so. China lies, it is just what they do. Much like Iran, another of your heroes.

Reply to  2hotel9
December 13, 2018 6:46 am

No friend of China at all – an autocracy.
Don’t listen to the Don on Iran … doesn’t know what he is talking about. Europe quite rightly has not reimposed sanctions as the Don wanted as Iran is abiding by the deal that was thrashed out.

Reply to  Ivan Kinsman
December 13, 2018 5:30 pm

You really are a congenital liar. Too f**king funny.

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