The total number of coal-fired power plants under development around the world plummeted in 2016, including a 48% decline in overall pre-construction activity, a 62% decline in new construction starts, and a massive 85% decline in new Chinese coal plant permits.
These are just some of the highlights from a new report released this week by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and CoalSwarm. The report, Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, is the third annual survey of the globe’s coal plant pipeline, and concluded that “the amount of coal power capacity under development worldwide saw a dramatic drop in 2016, mainly due to shifting policies and economic conditions in China and India.”
It should come as no surprise that any changes in China and India are having such a massive impact on the global figures. The two countries are two of the world’s fastest-growing economies, home to literally billions of people, and are developing significant energy resources in an effort to raise the quality of living throughout the countries.
Further, it is no surprise that the figures represent such a massive shift, considering the news that we have been covering over the past year or so.
China’s aims to decouple its economy from reliance upon coal has been self-evident in recent months. China eliminated unnecessary coal plants and future coal plant development starting in late 2016, announcing the cancellation of 30 large coal-fired power plants amounting to 17 gigawatts (GW), followed soon after by the cancellation of 104 more under-construction and planned coal projects amounting to 120 GW.
According to the country’s own National Bureau of Statistics, earlier this month, the country’s total energy consumption increased by 1.4% in 2016 but the country’s coal consumption declined by 4.7%.
India has not had as clear-cut goals as China has. Back in October, the country was still aiming to push forward with 300 gigawatts (GW) of new coal capacity by 2030 — made up of about 65 GW worth of new coal capacity already under construction and another 178 GW in the permitting pipeline. However, the country’s own Power Ministry determined that the country does not need to build any new capacity for the next three years. This was confirmed by an independent analysis conducted by Greenpeace’s Energy Desk which found that 94% of the planned new coal capacity would lay idle in 2022 due to an unplanned overcapacity.
The Indian government has also promised significant levels of new renewable energy capacity, which could result in no new coal plants being built until after 2022. The country’s coal imports are also signalling a shift towards renewable energy and less-reliance upon fossil fuels, considering that reports from Indian newspapers suggested that Indian coal imports declined by 21.7% in January, down to 14.31 million tonnes.
All of these maneuvers are at least partly responsible for the massive down-tick in the coal plant pipeline. The report found that there is at least 68 GW of construction frozen at over 100 project sites in China and India alone. Unsurprisingly, worldwide that number is even larger. In addition to the decline in the pipeline, however, the new report also found a record-breaking 64 GW of coal plant retirements over the past two years, primarily focused in the US and the European Union.
In addition to the decline in the pipeline, however, the new report also found a record-breaking 64 GW of coal plant retirements over the past two years, primarily focused in the US and the European Union.
“This has been a messy year, and an unusual one,” said Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm. “It’s not normal to see construction frozen at scores of locations, but central authorities in China and bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants as a major waste of resources. However abrupt, the shift from fossil fuels to clean sources in the power sector is a positive one for health, climate security, and jobs. And by all indications, the shift is unstoppable.”
“The staggering uptick in clean energy and reduction in the new coal plant pipeline is even more proof that coal isn’t just bad for public health and the environment — it’s bad for the bottom line,” said Nicole Ghio, senior campaigner for the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign. “Markets are demanding clean energy, and no amount of rhetoric from Donald Trump will be able to stop the fall of coal in the U.S. and across the globe.”
“2016 marked a veritable turning point,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner on Coal and Air Pollution at Greenpeace. “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”