Coal power plant permitting, construction starts and new project announcements accelerated dramatically in China in 2022, according to a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

The coal power capacity starting construction in China was six times as large as that in all of the rest of the world combined.

According to CREA, 50 GW of coal capacity started construction in China in 2022, a more than 50% increase from 2021. Many of these projects had their permits fast-tracked and moved to construction in a few months. The organization says a total of 106 GW of new coal power projects were permitted, the equivalent of two large coal power plants per week.

The amount of capacity permitted more than quadrupled from 23 GW in 2021. Of the projects permitted in 2022, 60 GW were not under construction in January 2023, but are likely to start construction soon, indicating even more construction starts in 2023. In total, 86 GW of new coal power projects were initiated, more than doubling from 40 GW in 2021.

CREA says the largest amount of capacity moved ahead in Guangdong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang and Hubei.

All the new coal-fired capacity additions don’t necessarily mean that carbon emissions from the power sector will increase in China. If non-fossil power generation from wind, solar and nuclear continues to grow, and electricity demand growth stabilizes or slows down, power generation from coal could peak and decline. President Xi Jinping has also pledged that China would reduce coal consumption in the 2026–30 period.

Still, the country’s power system remains dependent on coal power capacity for meeting electricity peak loads and managing the variability of demand and clean power supply.

“The worst-case scenario is that the pressure to make use of the newly built coal power plants and prevent a steep fall in utilization leads to a moderation in China’s clean energy buildout, and/or the promotion of energy-intensive industries to consume the electricity,” reads an excerpt from the CREA report. “This could mean a major increase in China’s CO2 emissions over this decade, undermining the global climate effort, and could even put China’s climate commitments in danger.”

CREA provided policy recommendations in the report, including:

You can read the full report here.

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