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Global Coal Plant Construction ‘Collapses’, But China Considers Massive New Buildout

The introduction of new coal-fired power plants around the world has entered a “collapse” over the last three years, although the China Electricity Council is considering a proposal for a massive new buildout.

“The number of plants on which construction has begun each year has fallen by 84% since 2015, and 39% in 2018 alone, while the number of completed plants has dropped by more than half since 2015,” The Guardian reports, citing a study released late last month by Global Energy Monitor. That’s because “the falling cost of renewable energy is pricing coal out of the electricity market, more than 100 financial institutions have blacklisted coal producers, and political action to cut carbon emissions is growing.”

But while report author Neha Mathew Shah of the U.S. Sierra Club concluded that “it’s only a matter of time before coal is a thing of the past worldwide,” Global Energy Monitor spokesperson Christine Shearer said the emissions from existing plants are still enough to imperil the goal of keeping average global warming below 2.0°C. “We need to radically phase down coal plant use over the next decade to keep on track for Paris climate goals,” she said.

The report shows the United States accounting for more than half of the closures over the last three years, despite Donald Trump’s crusade to protect his country’s dying coal industry. China and India accounted for 85% of the new construction, but China’s activity delivered less than 5 GW of new capacity last year, compared to 184 GW in 2015, The Guardian notes. “India permitted less than 3 GW in 2018, compared with 39 GW in 2010,” and “has added more solar and wind power capacity than coal over the last two years.”

And Japan announced late last month that it will no longer approve new coal plants with capacity of 150 MW or more, or new boilers for existing facilities, as part of its commitment under the Paris Agreement. “The policy initiative, announced March 28 by Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada, follows criticism that Japan is reluctant to break with such power generation, particularly after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster,” Asahi Shimbun reports.

The Global Energy Monitor release “warns of a possible coal plant resurgence in China, where satellite photos show developers have restarted work on dozens of suspended projects,” The Guardian states. The country’s Electricity Council, which speaks for power utilities, is asking for 290 GW of new capacity, more than all the remaining coal-fired generation in the U.S.

“Another coal power construction spree [in China] would be near impossible to reconcile with the emission reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming,” said Greenpeace analyst Laurie Myllyvirta.Carbon Brief has a new interactive map of coal-fired generating capacity around the world, noting that capacity has doubled to around 2,000 GW since 2000 but has more recently begun to decline.