Global planned coal power capacity has been decreasing for the fourth year in a row while China insists on growing its coal fleet, a new report unveiled Thursday.
The report, Boom and Bust 2020: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, the fifth annual survey of the investments for coal plants in the world prepared by Global Energy Monitor, Greenpeace International, the Sierra Club and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, revealed that the number of coal-fired power plants under development worldwide dropped steeply in 2019.
The number of coal plants under construction and in pre-construction development saw a decrease of 16% in 2019 compared to the previous year.
It also remarked a decline of 66% last year compared to 2015 levels.
Despite the decline in the development, the global coal fleet grew 34.1 gigawatts (GW) in 2019 which was the first increase in net capacity additions since 2015.
According to the report, nearly two-thirds of the newly commissioned capacity was in China.
"Global power generation from coal fell by a record amount in 2019, as renewable energy grew and power demand slowed down," said Christine Shearer, lead author and Director of Global Energy Monitor’s Coal Program.
"Regardless, the number of new plants added to the grid accelerated, meaning that the world’s coal plants were operated a lot less – more plants generating less power. For banks and investors that continue to underwrite new coal plants, this means weakened profitability and increased risk," she noted.
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Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, stated that the coal power lobby in China is pushing for hundreds of new coal-fired power plants by 2030 which is starkly at odds with China’s pledge to be a contributor in the fight agains climate change.
"As policymakers look for ways to stimulate the economy after the coronavirus crisis, a wave of new coal plants would be the worst kind of waste. Both China’s climate pledges and the increasing competitiveness of clean energy technologies mean that clean energy installations will accelerate, leaving no space for coal-fired generation to grow,” he said.
The report also revealed that within the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), coal power capacity has been declining since 2011.
Nearly half of the retired coal power capacity in 2019 was in the U.S., the second highest on record.
Under the President Donald Trump, the U.S. coal plant retirements have increased 67% compared to Barack Obama’s presidential period.
Retirements averaged 8.2 GW a year during Obama’s tenure between 2009–2016, and 13.7 GW a year during Trump’s tenure 2017–2019, according to the report.
- Japan is increasing coal capacity in and out of its borders
As the U.S. and European Union move away from coal, Japan is now the biggest driver of new coal power in the OECD, said in the report.
Japan has 11.9 GW of coal power under development domestically that would increase lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from its existing coal fleet by 50%.
Outside its borders, Japanese public finance is behind 24.7 GW of coal power, larger than the coal fleet of Australia which is 24.4 GW.
"Though coal is still advancing in some Asian countries, the rest of the world is clearly seeing an overall decline in the coal fleet. This is an international trend that is only going to continue," said Gyorgy Dallos, Global Strategist for Greenpeace International.
The report also said that even with the fall in coal plant development in 2019, the world is not on track for the steep reductions in coal power necessary to meet the Paris climate agreement.
Coal power use needs to fall 80% by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5°C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the United Nations has called for 2020 to be the global end date for new coal plant proposals.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya