Report reveals “extraordinary” growth of coal-power approvals in China

China’s largest coal-fired power station, located in Shanghai (Igor Groshev/Dreamstime)
China approved 106GW of coal-fired power stations last year, the biggest increase since 2015, a report finds.

The report’s authors, Finland’s Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM), say the number equates to two new coal power plants approved every week in 2022.

The plants will be spread across 82 sites and will involve building 168 units – four times the capacity approved in 2021 and six times greater than new coal starts in the rest of the world.

“The speed at which projects progressed through permitting to construction in 2022 was extraordinary, with many projects sprouting up, gaining permits, obtaining financing and breaking ground apparently in a matter of months,” said Flora Champenois, an analyst at GEM.

“This kind of a process leaves little room for proper planning or consideration of alternatives,” she added.

CREA’s map shows the location of China’s newly approved coal-fired units

The report said the burst of construction was a response to a rapid increase in peak demand over the past two years. This hit an all-time high of 230GW, largely from air-conditioners.

The authorities are steering a course between avoiding the air pollution that hit many major cities in the past decade and preventing the blackouts that occurred in September 2021 because of coal supply shortages.

However, CREA said that the growth in coal-fired capacity did not mean that carbon emissions were bound to increase. It said: “Provided that growth in non-fossil power generation from wind, solar and nuclear continues to accelerate, and electricity demand growth stabilises or slows down, power generation from coal could peak and decline.”

China installed about 125GW of wind and solar power last year, according to government data, and is the world’s largest generator of hydroelectric energy. It has also been closing older and less efficient coal-fired stations.

President Xi Jinping has pledged that China will reduce coal consumption in the period between 2026 and 2030 as part of a drive to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

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