By Paul Homewood
Reports of planned expansion of coal power on China have led to much sticking of fingers in ears and shouting LALALA amongst the warmist fraternity in recent months. Well, now it’s official.
China aims to cap coal-fired power capacity at 1,100 gigawatts by 2020, higher than the current ceiling but accounting for less of the country’s total power supply, as the top global energy market seeks to increase the use of cleaner renewable fuels.
Announcing its five-year plan for the power industry, the National Energy Administration (NEA) on Monday said China aimed to have 2,000 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity by 2020, of which at least 320 gigawatts, or 16 percent, would come from solar and wind power and 110 gigawatts from natural gas.
That would bring China much more in line with current power generation mixes in the United States and the European Union, where installed renewable capacity – excluding hydro-power – stands at around 22 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
As part of its long-term plan to shift to clean power, the NEA said China will eliminate or delay at least 150 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power projects between 2016 and 2020.
While the new ceiling for coal is up from 960 GW in a previous five-year plan for the period to 2015, it will bring down coal’s share in China’s total power mix to more than 50 percent from over two-thirds.
“It is not easy to cap coal power capacity under 1,100 GW. If we don’t take measures, I believe the capacity will go beyond 1,250 GW,” Huang Xuenong, director of the power department under NEA, told reporters at a briefing.
Given an economic slowdown, rise in electricity consumption is expected to slow to about 3.6-4 percent over 2016 to 2020, from an annualized 12 percent in 2011, Huang said, resulting in excess capacity – mainly coal power and hydro power.
Conventional hydro power capacity will reach 340 GW by 2020, up only 6 percent from end-2015, the NEA said, indicating a surplus and a grid connection problem in the southwest.
Analysts, however, believe the planned cap for coal capacity is still quite high.
The government may have to cut the target as manufacturers shift to cleaner fuels and Beijing encourages expansion of renewables, said Zhou Dadi, vice-chair of China Energy Research Society. “We are … seeing coal-fired power projects are being delayed in some provinces due to overall slower demand.”
“The government targeted numbers would not encourage more investment into coal-fired utilities.”
Total power consumption will reach between 6.8 trillion and 7.2 trillion kilowatt hour (KWh) by 2020, up from 5.69 trillion KWh by the end of 2015.
The target of 1100 GW of coal capacity by 2020 compares with capacity of 794 GW at the end of 2013. The headline claim that coal is being capped is highly mendacious, and avoids the truth that coal fired capacity will be ramped up substantially in the next few years.
The Reuters report tries to make things sound more palatable by using the usual trick of talking “capacity”, in order to make renewbles sound more important:
it will bring down coal’s share in China’s total power mix to more than 50 percent from over two-thirds.
The reality, in terms of actual generation, is a lot different.
Based on capacity utilisation calculations from the 2015 China Statistical Yearbook , we can project what China’s electricity balance sheet might look like in 2020, using the capacity figures given by Reuters.
|GW Capacity||Capacity Utilisation
NOTE: Generation from coal is the balancing figure, and and would imply a capacity utilisation of 43%, much lower than the 2015 figure of 56%. (The Statistical Yearbook lumps coal, oil and gas together under the “Thermal” heading.
In my view, this lower utilisation of coal fired capacity can reasonably be explained under two scenarios:
1) Whilst the new capacity is likely to operate at much higher levels, due to their reliability and efficiency, we are likely to see a gradual phasing out of older plant, which is highly polluting, close to urban centres, and highly inefficient and costly.
2) Any spare capacity will be needed soon after 2020, as energy demands continue to increase.
Nevertheless, my assessment probably understates coal generation. We already know, for instance, that China’s grid is having difficulty in coping with wind and solar output, produced in remote areas where the grid infrastructure is poor. It may well be that the planned increase in wind and solar capacity won’t generate the extra power assumed.
Even as these figures stand though, coal will still account for 60% of China’s electricity generation in 2020, and thermal in total 69%.
More significantly though, thermal generation will increase from 4247 TWh in 2013, to 4808 TWh by 2020. An increase, in other words, of 13%.
In contrast, wind and solar contribute only 7%.
And as I have mentioned before, there is simply no way that China would build all of this new coal fired capacity if they planned to close it all down again in just a few short years time.
1) Nuclear capacity is currently 15 GW, but is expected to reach 58 GW in 2020, according to the World Nuclear Association.
2) Solar and wind capacities are per Bloomberg.