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New Research ‘Searchlight’ Shows 40% of China’s Coal Plants Losing Money

Nearly half of China’s coal-fired power plants are losing money, and their owners could save US$389 billion by shutting down coal capacity in line with the Paris Agreement, according to a “revolutionary” new satellite-based assessment released earlier this week by the UK-based Carbon Tracker think tank.

With more than 1,000 operating coal plants, 40% of China’s coal-fired power plants are already losing money, a figure which could rise to 95% by 2040,” CleanTechnica reports. “Carbon Tracker has not been able to provide this report to Chinese state-owned power companies—not unsurprising, given the difficulty for outsiders to do so in China—but the think tank is planning a Chinese road show for 2019 where they will seek to work with local partners to disseminate their research to companies.”

“Satellite imagery coupled with data science offers a powerful response to those governments and asset owners who are unwilling or unable to disclose timely and accurate data,” said Carbon Tracker’s head of power and utilities, Matt Gray. “Our analysis proves it is in China’s own financial interests to retire coal in a manner consistent with the Paris Agreement.”

By 2021, the report concludes, it will be cheaper for China to build new onshore wind farms than to continue operating existing coal facilities. By 2025, new photovoltaic solar installations will hit the same threshold.

All of which means that “China’s National Energy Investment Group, the world’s largest power company, is at risk of losing $66 billion in stranded assets if it pursues business as usual policies, risking half its total capital,” CleanTechnica states. “Two other companies—Guangdong Yudean Group and Zhejiang Energy Group—are at risk of losing more than their total capital in stranded assets ($22 billion and $26 billion, respectively).”

Apart from the research results, Carbon Tracker is sounding excited about the methodology it used for the report.

“The revolution in space sensing is a powerful tool to monitor fossil fuels and energy trends. Combining this new data with existing datasets means we can get an asset-level insight on companies anywhere in the world,” said data scientist Laurence Watson. “With the realities of the energy transition starting to bite, this new searchlight really leaves fossil laggards with nowhere to hide.”