China to add more coal plants than thought to ease energy crunch

A coal shipment underway in China. (Image by Rob Loftis, Wikimedia Commons).

China is set to add more new coal-fired power plants than previously expected, in a bid to ease an energy crunch that’s hurting its economy.

The world’s biggest energy user plans to add 270 gigawatts of thermal capacity in the five years through 2025, China Energy Engineering Corp., the country’s top energy engineering conglomerate, said in an online briefing on Thursday. That’s more than the 100 to 200 gigawatts estimated in 2020 by a senior researcher at State Grid of China Corp. Energy Research Institute.

New Chinese coal plants have been expected to face restrictions after 2025 amid a green push, but priorities changed somewhat in the wake of a power crunch in major industrial hubs. A blistering heatwave and drought this summer forced factories to halt in some regions, crimping output of materials such as lithium and aluminum.

China may remain the world’s largest coal consumer and the expansion of coal plants might thwart its climate goals, Bloomberg Intelligent analyst Michelle Leung said in a note this month. The country put more new coal plants into operation last year than the rest of the world combined, and its proposed new coal mines account for almost a third of the global total, she said.

The nation’s National Energy Administration said in February that it planned to stop building coal-power plants as base-load generators, and would only add new ones to support intermittent renewable projects.

While the energy transition helped China’s clean-power capacity to overtake coal for the first time in 2021, coal remained the main fuel for generation, accounting for 60% of total power output, China Electricity Council data show.

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