Coal-fired power capacity fell 14% to an estimated 932 GW in July 2016
The amount of global coal-fired power generating capacity that are in the developmental stage fell 14% to an estimated 932 gigawatts (GW) in July 2016, from 1,090 GW in January 2016, according to a Global Coal Plant Tracker run by non-government and anti-coal group CoalSwarm, and as reported by Reuters on September 7th, 2016. The overall decline of 158 GW was almost equal to the coal generating capacity of the European Union at 162 GW.
The decline in the global coal-fired power generation capacity under development is mainly due to new restrictions in China, which is facing a coal glut and trying to promote cleaner energy, as well as a slowdown in India. India introduced many policies in the first half of 2016, which are aimed at curbing the development of coal-fired power plants, mainly because the existing plants are under-utilized.
China leads drop in coal projects
China recorded the largest drop in coal-fired power projects in the pre-construction stage with a total capacity of 114 GW, followed by India with 40 GW. Both countries recently announced major policy moves that focus on less-polluting energy sources. The Philippines and Indonesia have also curbed coal, while countries such as Egypt and Mongolia raised their planning with regard to coal-fired power plants.
In April 2016, China announced restrictions for proposed coal-fired power plants in 13 provinces. China also said in February 2016 that it would close down 500 million tons of coal production in the next three to five years to reduce oversupply, while trying to limit air pollution and climate change. In June 2016, India’s Ministry of Power stated that no further power plants would be added in the next three years.
In Southeast Asia, several countries have taken steps to reduce or delay new coal power capacity. In March 2016, Vietnam revised its Power Development Plan VII, canceling or postponing 23 GW of planned coal-fired power plants. Indonesia’s RUPTL 2016-2025, covering all power development in the coming decade, postponed over 7 GW of proposed coal-fired power capacity to later years.
Factors such as cheaper renewable energies and worries about climate change, pollution and water stress were causing cancellations or postponements, and this trend is expected to accelerate over time. Even so, CoalSwarm said that the number of coal-fired power projects being planned or built were still too high to restrict the rise in global temperatures to a goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) set by world leaders in the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015.
Globally, East Asia continues to have the highest amount of coal-fired power capacity under development, except permitted proposals, followed by South Asia.
Coal plant retirements on the rise
Retirements of coal plants are increasing worldwide, especially in the U.S. and Europe, but are still only a fifth the size of new plant construction, according to CoalSwarm. From 2003 to 2015, for instance, the U.S. added 23 GW of coal capacity and retired 54 GW. This is because major economies are under pressure to reduce coal power production, since coal is the most polluting of the major fossil fuels.
China and India lead in proposed coal plants
China has taken the lead with the most number of proposed coal-fired power plants having a total capacity of 406 GW. However, this is a significant decrease from January 2016, when the country had 519 MW of coal project proposals, mainly due to guidelines issued in April 2016 when the government suspended 77.5 GW of the country’s pre-construction proposals. The Chinese government has also said that it may suspend all new coal plant construction until 2018, aimed at rebalancing the coal glut, focus on renewables, and enhance plant utilization rates in China. Yet, China has an additional 205 GW of coal plants under construction, and commissioned 11,580 megawatts (MW) of new coal in 2016.
India has the second highest amount of proposed coal project capacity of 178 GW and under construction capacity of 65 GW. It was recently reported that 35% of India’s existing coal power capacity is lying idle, raising doubts about the viability of future such projects.
Supercritical technology most preferred
Among the announced coal power projects worldwide, supercritical combustion accounted for 246 GW, followed closely by ultra-supercritical at 233 GW and subcritical technology with 88 GW as of July 2016. Supercritical combustion makes coal plants more efficient while lower global greenhouse gas emissions. Among plants under construction, supercritical and ultra-supercritical combustion also account for most capacity, as of July 2016.
Although most proposed coal plants would employ more efficient ultra- and supercritical plant technology, the level of CO2 emissions produced would still be a mismatch with international climate goals. If built, coal plants currently under construction or pre-construction development stages would emit 220,241 million tons (Mt) of CO2 over a 40-year lifetime, exceeding the entire 204,620 Mt limit for a high (66%) probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Aggregating all pre-construction and construction categories, 51% of the emissions would come from East Asia.
Currently operating coal plants
As of July 2016, the Global Coal Plant Tracker shows that at 895 GW, China has by far the most coal power capacity of any country, followed by the U.S. with 302.5 GW, and India with 206 GW. The study includes all operating coal plants, in addition to proposed coal plants.
The global power sector is in the midst of a major transformation, with a massive shift seen from coal to renewable forms of energy, with the demand for fossil fuels expected to decline in the next 10 years. Countries have woken up to the harsh realities of global warming with the Paris conference in December 2015 seeing 196 nations agree to limit global warming to below 2oC and to rein in further the possibly irreversible climate changes.