Global Coal Plant Capacity Under Development Declined In 2021

But China has continued to lead all countries in domestic development of new coal plants

Global coal plant capacity under development declined in 2021, according to Global Energy Monitor’s eighth annual survey of the coal plant pipeline. The report finds that after rising in 2020 for the first time since 2015, total coal power capacity under development declined 13% last year, from 525 gigawatts (GW) to 457 GW, a record low. 34 countries have new coal plants under consideration, down from 41 countries in January 2021.

China, South Korea, and Japan notably pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, but China continued to lead all countries in domestic development of new coal plants, commissioning more coal capacity than the rest of the world combined.

This month’s critical Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed there is no carbon budget left to accommodate new coal plants, and that coal use needs to fall by 75% by 2030 (from 2019 levels) to limit global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement.

In 2021, the operating coal fleet grew by a net 18.2 GW, a post-Covid rebound in a year that saw a slowdown in coal plant retirements. Pre-construction coal capacity stands at 280 GW globally, equivalent to the current operating fleets of the United States and Japan combined.

Progress must happen faster to meet the clear demands of climate science for a radical coal phase down within this decade.

Key findings:

● Globally, more than half (56%) of the 45 GW of newly commissioned capacity was in China. Outside China, the global coal fleet shrank for the fourth year in a row, although at a slower rate than in 2020.

● Newly commissioned capacity in China (25.2 GW) nearly offset coal plant retirements in the rest of the world (25.6 GW).

● Japan, South Korea, and China all pledged to end public support for new international coal plants, followed by a commitment from all G20 countries ahead of COP26. With these pledges, there is essentially no significant international public financier remaining for new coal plants.

● In 2021, the amount of U.S. coal capacity that retired declined for the second consecutive year, from 16.1 GW in 2019, to 11.6 GW in 2020, to an estimated 6.4 GW to 9 GW in 2021. To meet national energy and climate goals, continued momentum away from coal needs to accelerate.

● The European Union’s 27 member states retired a record 12.9 GW in 2021, with the most retirements in Germany (5.8 GW), Spain (1.7 GW), and Portugal (1.9 GW). Portugal became coal free in November 2021, nine years before its targeted 2030
phase-out date.

● There has been a 77% fall in coal plant capacity in pre-construction since the Paris
Agreement was signed in 2015.

“The coal plant pipeline is shrinking, but there is simply no carbon budget left to be building new coal plants. We need to stop, now,” said Flora Champenois of Global Energy Monitor.

“The latest IPCC report’s directive for a fighting chance at a livable climate is clear – stop building new coal plants and retire existing ones in the developed world by 2030, and the rest of the world soon after.” “Many emerging economies have cut back their plans for new coal-fired capacity, with the largest reductions happening in India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Egypt. Developed countries have announced new phase-out targets and plant retirements. Now countries with net-zero emission targets but without a coal phase-out plan aligned with those targets need to step up,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst for Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

“In China, plans for new coal-fired power plants have continued to be announced. Ideally, the government’s ambitious plans for increasing clean electricity production by 2025 mean that the utilization of coal-fired power plants drops even as capacity increases. But unless new coal power projects are controlled much more strictly, worsening overcapacity in coal-fired power could make China’s energy transition harder and more costly.” “The knock-on impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the global energy market have only further highlighted what we already knew – building new coal-fired power stations is an expensive mistake,” said Leo Roberts from E3G.

“As this analysis shows, many countries around the world have realized this and turned their backs on new coal power projects, but many others have yet to catch on. Those countries still considering new coal power stations in 2022 are openly accepting high energy costs for consumers, the imminent threat of costly stranded assets, and the energy insecurity that comes with relying on fossil fuels to power an economy.”

The report also noted that the amount of electricity generated from coal rose by 9% in 2021 to a record high, more than rebounding from a 4% fall in 2020 that was caused in part by the Covid-19 pandemic. Progress was made in 2021 on establishing future retirement dates for operating plants, with the number of coal plants effectively given a close-by date nearly doubling to 750 coal plants (550 GW).

The writer of this article is Dr. Seema Javed, a known Environmentalist, Journalist and Communications Expert

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