Beijing – Provincial governments in China approved at least 20.45 gigawatts (GW) of new coal in the first three months of 2023, according to official approval documents, while frequently citing energy security concerns. This redoubled coal investment comes at the expense of desperately-needed improvements to China’s electric grid and energy storage capacity that would make it easier for existing capacity to meet periods of high energy demand.
“The 2022 coal boom has clearly continued into this year. Summer is around the corner, and there’s a long list of energy infrastructure fixes needed all around China. But throwing more coal at the wall isn’t one of them. China’s electric grid doesn’t lack generation capacity. The grid lacks adequate flexibility and responsiveness. These problems will continue to inhibit electricity transfer and storage until we face them head on,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Xie Wenwen.
Greenpeace East Asia reviewed official documents, including project approvals, reviews, and environmental impact assessments, to confirm new energy projects through 2022 and into the first fiscal quarter of 2023.
In 2022, at least 90.72 GW of new coal power was approved, with just eight provinces approving 77.88% of that figure. Guangdong approved the most new coal by far, with 10 new projects totaling 18.18 GW of new coal capacity. Jiangsu approved eight projects totaling 12.12 GW of new coal capacity.
New wind and solar capacity also increased in 2022, as 121 GW combined capacity of wind and solar projects started operation.¹ As of 2022 year-end, China’s total generation capacity was 15.2% solar energy, 14.3% wind energy, and 43.8% coal.
Among approval documents that did include official justifications for new coal capacity, the most common justifications were: “ensuring safe energy supply” with 28 mentions, “meeting heating demand” with 21 mentions, “meeting growing energy demand” with 21 mentions, and “stimulating local economic development” with 16 mentions.
“Continuing to throw coal at the inefficiencies in China’s energy system is a dead end. And it risks climate disasters, financial burden, and locking us into a high-carbon pathway. China’s power sector can still peak emissions by 2025, but we need to act now. It’s 2023 and it’s all hands on deck for an energy transition. We can’t delay the serious fixes to grid flexibility and efficiency we need to get there,” said Xie.
Real solutions to energy security in China revolve around supplying periods of high energy demand through demand-side solutions, including policies that enable region-to-region energy transfer or infrastructure improvements to energy storage capacity, inter-grid connectivity, management platforms, and user-side load control measures.
- In China today, most renewable energy projects do not require the official approval processes that thermal power (e.g., coal) or nuclear power require. So, this figure reflects how much wind and solar capacity went online. Coal figures here show how much coal was approved during the indicated time frame.
The full research briefing is available in Mandarin Chinese here.
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