China Approved More Coal Plants in 2023 Q1 Than in All of 2021: Greenpeace Report
A new analysis from Greenpeace has found that in just the first three months of this year, China has already approved about 20.45 gigawatts of coal projects, more than the country approved in all of 2021.
In 2022, China saw a surge in coal project approvals, amounting to the approval of about two projects per week, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Yet this year’s figures for the first quarter of the year are already substantially higher than the same time frame of 2022, when China approved 8.63 gigawatts. In 2021, a total of about 18.55 gigawatts of new coal projects were greenlit, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Greenpeace analyzed figures in official approval documents and found multiple mentions of energy security concerns as justification for the new coal plants. Other concerns mentioned in the documents included “meeting heating demand,” “meeting growing energy demand,” and “stimulating local economic development.”
But Greenpeace noted that investing more for coal is actually less impactful at improving the grid and meeting high energy demands.
“The 2022 coal boom has clearly continued into this year. Summer is around the corner, and there’s a long list of energy infrastructure fixes needed all around China,” Xie Wenwen, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said in a statement. “But throwing more coal at the wall isn’t one of them. China’s electric grid doesn’t lack generation capacity. The grid lacks adequate flexibility and responsiveness. These problems will continue to inhibit electricity transfer and storage until we face them head on.”
Although the surge in coal of 2022 seems to be continuing on for 2023, the country did see approvals for more sources of clean energy last year. Combined wind and solar projects that started operations in 2022 reached 121 gigawatts of capacity. Still, coal is the dominant energy source at 43.8% of capacity, compared to 15.2% solar and 14.3% wind by the end of 2022.
More investments in clean energy and energy storage will be necessary for China to meet its goals of reaching peak carbon emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2060. The newly approved coal plants would need to operate at a loss in order for China to meet these goals, Al Jazeera reported.
“Continuing to throw coal at the inefficiencies in China’s energy system is a dead end. And it risks climate disasters, financial burden, and locking us into a high-carbon pathway. China’s power sector can still peak emissions by 2025, but we need to act now,” Xie warned.