China’s quest for energy stability boosts permissions for fossil fuels

In the initial six months of 2023, China sanctioned over 50 gigawatts of fresh coal energy, a study conducted by the environmental organization Greenpeace revealed. The leading global emitter of carbon is concentrating on safeguarding energy rather than minimizing fossil fuel usage. As climatologists and conservationists press for governments to enact more substantial reductions in emissions following unprecedented heatwaves worldwide, China’s response to extreme weather conditions has encouraged the construction of additional coal-burning facilities. This is an attempt to mitigate the drought’s impact on hydroelectricity production and prevent electricity shortages.

“China’s administration has positioned energy stability and the energy shift in conflict with each other,” remarked Greenpeace’s Gao Yuhe, the leader of the research released on Thursday. Beijing has vowed to reach the zenith of carbon emissions before 2030, but President Xi Jinping’s other commitment to begin decreasing coal consumption from 2026 to 2030 is currently at risk, according to Gao. “Beijing has unambiguously declared that coal-generated energy will continue to expand at a ‘sensible rate’ into 2030,” she noted. China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) did not promptly respond to a facsimile seeking their view on the coal facilities and energy production strategies.

Last year, coal production in China escalated by 9% to 4.5 billion tons, constituting over half of the global total, and maintained its upward trajectory this year. Official figures indicate this, as coal facilities endeavor to compensate for a 22.9% downturn in hydroelectric power generation in the first half. China’s upsurge in coal utilization mirrors a global trend. Just last week, the International Energy Agency reported that global coal consumption hit an all-time high of 8.3 billion tons in 2022, with robust expansion in Asia counterbalancing reductions elsewhere. In March, China’s government economic directorate, the National Development and Reform Commission, stated it would “bolster” coal’s contributory function in the aggregate energy composition.

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From 2000 to 2022, China constructed over 1,000 GW of coal-fired facilities, an amount sufficient to electrify the whole European Union, contributing to 69% of total worldwide increases, based on figures gathered by the Global Energy Monitor think tank. Officially, a large portion of China’s newly built coal-powered plants aims to supplement intermittent clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydro, particularly during dry spells or periods of peak demand. However, Gao stated that China’s “inherent preference for coal” is hindering additional investment in vital energy storage systems that could render renewable energy more dependable.

The magnitude of the new constructions also indicates that economic expansion is the primary incentive, and the claim that they are aiding renewables is losing credibility, observed Jorrit Gosens, a climate analyst at the Australian National University. “The longstanding narrative has been that capacity is not overly significant, provided these facilities are not operated at elevated utilization levels, but it would require considerable optimism to reiterate that now,” he stated. Although coal energy gradually increases, China’s installations of renewable energy have persistently risen, with a capacity enhancement of 109 GW in the first half, as per NEA figures. “The encouraging part, as usual, is that renewables continue to become more cost-effective and are constructed at an unparalleled rate,” Gosens affirmed. “This will begin to diminish coal’s market dominance in the near future.”

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