Despite growing concerns about climate change and environmental impact, China has approved more than 50 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power in the first half of 2023, as per research by environment group Greenpeace. As the world’s top carbon polluter, China’s focus on energy security has led to a surge in coal-fired plants, attempting to counter the effects of drought on hydropower production and avoid power outages. This article explores China’s approach to balancing energy security and transition amid increasing calls for deeper emission cuts and renewable energy adoption.
Balancing Energy Security and Transition
China’s government faces a delicate balancing act between ensuring energy security and transitioning towards cleaner energy sources. While aiming to bring carbon emissions to a peak before 2030, the pledge to start cutting coal use over the 2026-2030 period is now under threat due to the rising demand for coal-based power. The tension between energy security and reducing fossil fuel consumption poses challenges for China’s climate commitments.
Impact of Extreme Weather on Coal Usage
Record-breaking heatwaves and extreme weather events have highlighted the importance of energy security for China. Facing a 22.9% decline in hydropower generation during the first half of the year, coal-fired plants have been under pressure to fill the gap and ensure a stable power supply. This situation has led to an increase in coal usage despite global calls for reducing fossil fuel consumption.
The Worldwide Pattern of Coal Consumption
China’s surge in coal usage reflects a global trend. According to the International Energy Agency, global coal consumption reached a record 8.3 billion tons in 2022, with strong growth in Asia offsetting declines elsewhere. As one of the world’s largest coal consumers, China’s approach to coal power has broader implications for global emissions and climate change mitigation.
Addressing the Role of Coal in the Energy Mix
China’s National Development and Reform Commission has stated that it will “strengthen” coal’s supporting role in the overall energy mix. While some new coal-fired power plants are intended to provide backup for weather-dependent renewable sources, there are concerns that the “built-in bias to coal” is hindering investments in critical energy storage infrastructure for renewables.
Encouraging Growth in Renewable Installations
Amid the increase in coal power, China’s renewable installations have continued to soar, with capacity rising by 109 GW in the first half of 2023. The growing competitiveness and record pace of renewable installations offer hope for a transition away from coal in the future. However, striking a balance between coal and renewables remains a complex challenge.
China’s approval of more than 50 GW of new coal power has sparked concerns about its commitment to emission reduction and clean energy transition. As the country grapples with the balance between energy security and climate action, it faces both challenges and opportunities.
The growth of renewable installations presents a positive outlook, but addressing the reliance on coal remains critical for China’s contribution to global efforts in combating climate change. Striking the right balance between energy security and transition will be essential to achieving sustainable development goals in the years ahead.