China cancelled or postponed plans to build about 200 new coal plants totalling 105 gigawatts of generation under guidelines released Monday by the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration.
“That’s a big chunk of power,” IHS Energy coal specialist Bob Hodge told the New York Times. “It’s a lot of power. It’s a heck of a lot of power.”
The move followed China’s announcement late last year that it would suspend new coal mine approvals for three years and shut down 1,000 operating mines, in an effort to cut the fuel’s share of total energy consumption from 64.4% in 2015 to 62.6% in 2016.
But Greenpeace analyst Lauri Myllyvirta, acknowledged by the Times as “an authoritative analyst of China’s energy production,” said the announcement won’t stop another 190 GW of coal capacity now under construction. “It’s definitely a positive step, but it’s not even enough to prevent the overcapacity from getting worse.” With easy access to capital, he added, state-owned electricity generators are still building about a gigawatt of new coal capacity per week.
“While the curbs on new coal projects, if rigorously enforced, may help China meet its long-term goals on climate change and air pollution, the primary motivation for the move appears to be short-term economic considerations,” the Times reports. “In the face of the slowest economic growth in a quarter-century, electricity demand has fallen so sharply in China that some coal-burning power plants are operating only 40 or 50% of the time,” while new wind and solar capacity eats into demand.
Earlier this month, the chair of the State Grid Corporation of China called for the completion of a US$50-trillion ultra-high voltage (UHV) power grid to carry solar- and wind-generated electricity around the world by 2050. China envisions a global grid that would “connect proposed wind farms in the North Pole, and solar farms built at the equator that transcend national boundaries,” the World Economic Forum reports. “Such a project might foster a larger sense of global unity among nations, since power generation and distribution would become a transnational, worldwide undertaking.”