Beijing, 5 July 2017 – Tackling China’s coal power overcapacity problem could save enough water to meet the basic needs of 27 million people in water stressed areas, a new report from Greenpeace East Asia shows. Despite a reduction in coal consumption since 2014, coal-fired capacity in areas of high water stress continues to increase. By 2020, more than 60% of the coal power industry’s water consumption is projected to take place in areas of high water stress. Greenpeace urges that China reduce coal-fired capacity by retiring plants in areas of high water stress and halting the planning and construction of new coal-fired power plants.

“Not only is the ongoing expansion of coal-fired capacity unnecessary, but it is increasing stress on already scarce water resources and complicating the transition to a clean, low-carbon power mix. Targeted capacity cuts in regions with high water stress would free up water for human consumption and economically productive uses, while also showing much needed global leadership when it comes to reducing reliance on coal,” said senior global coal campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta.

Coal is an extremely water-intensive energy source, exacerbating China’s already severe water shortage. Although China is the world’s largest coal consumer, the country’s per capita water resources amount to only one third of the global average [1]. At the same time, coal power capacity in water stressed areas is projected to jump from 437 GW in 2016 to 527 GW in 2020.

As demand for coal-fired generation stagnates, China’s coal plants have seen historically low utilisation rates, but more plants are still under construction. In 2016, 12.5% of national coal power installed capacity (114 GW) could have been immediately eliminated with no risk of interruption to grid operations. By 2020 this figure is projected to increase to 213 GW, or 19 percent of national installed capacity.

Greenpeace researchers determined the water consumption level and water stress category for each coal-fired power plant using the World Resources Institute’s water stress mapping and CoalSwarm’s Global Coal Plant Tracker database [2]. To establish the amount of redundant capacity, they estimated the quantity of coal-fired capacity needed for reliable grid operation in each province, based on peak power demand and installed capacity of different power generating technologies.

Following a two-decade increase in coal-fired power generation, coal consumption in China began to drop in 2014 [3]. Starting in  2014, authority to issue permits for coal-fired power plants was transferred from the central government to provincial governments [4]. Permitted capacity skyrocketed  as province-level governments pursued short-term gains while longer-term economic and environmental concerns were sidelined.

Based on the report’s findings, Greenpeace urges that China reduce excess coal power capacity in high water stress areas by 179 GW before the end of the 13th Five-Year Plan period. Small, water-cooled plants are the least water efficient and should be phased out first. 

“Not only is coal the number one cause of smog, but it also guzzles a huge amount of water. The potential to address water scarcity when cutting overcapacity has been overlooked in the past, which is something we hope our research can change,” said Myllyvirta.

Notes to Editors:

The full report is available HERE. Media briefing available HERE

[3] China Coal Consumption Falls for Third Year Running – Energy Desk

* The following edits have been made to the report ‘Overcapacity, Overwithdrawal’ since its release on July 5, 2017. All data, analysis and conclusions remain unchanged.
-Corrected legend typesetting error in figure 4 ‘Predicted Distribution of Coal Power Plants in 2020 in Mainland China with Baseline Water Stress of the Mapped Region’
-Adjusted scope and title of figure; clarified research area in footnote.
-Added figure 2 ‘Distribution of Operational Coal Power Plants in 2016 in Mainland China with Baseline Water Stress of the Mapped Region’
-Corrected typesetting error for footnotes 3, 12, 35 and 78.  
-Corrected unit of measurement in table 7.
In case of any discrepancy in the report, the Chinese version prevails. (August 1, 2017)

Media Contacts:

Erin Newport, International Communications Officer
Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing | +86 18301149704 | [email protected]

Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)