China’s Addiction to Coal Deepens in the Heat

China has a solution to the heat wave that is currently affecting much of the northern hemisphere. Burning more coal to maintain a steady supply of electricity for air conditioning.

Even before this year, China emitted almost a third of all energy-related greenhouse gases, more than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. China burns more coal each year than the rest of the world combined. China increased electricity generation from coal, its main fuel source, by 14% last month compared to June 2022.

China’s increased use of coal in recent weeks is the result of a massive public campaign over the past two years to expand coal mines and build more coal-fired power plants. State media have praised the hard work of 1,000 workers who worked around the clock this spring to complete one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants in southeastern China in time for the summer.

A contradiction in China’s energy policy is that the country also leads the world in renewable energy deployment. From solar panels to storage batteries to electric vehicles, they control much of the global clean energy supply chain. However, it has doubled its use of coal for reasons of energy security and domestic politics.

After three days of negotiations in Beijing, President Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that China’s coal plan was the most difficult issue. “The problem now is to shift away from some of our dependence on coal,” he said.

The United States, which emits far fewer greenhouse gases than China, is heading in a different direction. It hasn’t built a new coal plant in the last decade, but its coal use has nearly halved, and its use of natural gas has increased.

No country has more underground coal reserves than China, and Chinese officials see domestic supply as vital to their energy security. Zhang Jianhua, director general of the government’s National Energy Administration, said coal was the “ballast stone” in the country’s energy mix.

“I always consider the protection of national energy security to be my most important mission,” he said at a press conference this spring.

China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, said in April 2021 that the country would “tightly manage coal-fired power projects and tightly control the growth of coal consumption” until 2025, and then “phasing out” over the next five years. said to do. In mid-September 2021, China separately banned further contracts to build coal-fired power plants in other countries.

A week later, in late September 2021, a heat wave overloaded China’s power grid, causing rolling blackouts across China’s coast. Employees were warned to flee the office skyscraper for just a few minutes before the elevator stopped. A sudden power outage at a chemical plant causes an explosion, injuring dozens of workers.

The debacle has sparked an urgent effort to expand coal mining and build more coal-fired power plants in China. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent cutoff of Russia’s energy supply to Europe has strengthened Beijing’s determination to rely on coal as the core of its energy security.

China primarily imports oil and natural gas, much of which arrives via sea lanes controlled by geopolitical rivals’ US or Indian navies. After the partial meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, China has limited nuclear power plant construction to a few near the coast.

As of January, China had more than 300 coal-fired power plants in various stages of proposal, approval and construction, according to the research group Global Energy Monitor. This is equivalent to two-thirds of the coal-fired power capacity being developed worldwide.

Part of the construction boom: During the 2021 blackout, Chinese provinces hoarded power and refused to sell it to other provinces. Many local and state governments have responded by seeking to build coal-fired power plants within their borders.

“Building this excess of coal power plants will drive up the overall cost of energy,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based environmental group.

David Fishman, a China power analyst at Hong Kong consulting firm Lantau Group, said virtually all of China’s new power plants are state-owned because private developers deem the facilities financially unviable. said to be built by

China is building more coal-fired power plants, but it also leads in solar and wind power. The United Arab Emirates has installed 3.5 times more solar power capacity and 2.6 times more wind power capacity than the United States, according to the International Renewable Energy Association, an intergovernmental body in the United Arab Emirates.

China’s largest wind and solar projects tend to take place in the less populated western and northwestern regions, where the weather is sunny and windy most of the year.

However, these sites are far from the coastal states where most of the population lives and many electricity-hungry businesses reside, and the weather is generally cloudy and windy.

Connecting the vast solar panel fields and wind turbine rows to the coastal areas requires the construction of ultra-high voltage power lines. China has built more miles of ultra-high voltage lines than the rest of the world combined.

One problem is that such lines are prohibitively expensive. China’s power companies must purchase 200-meter-wide land over hundreds of miles for each transmission line. Therefore, in order to be cost-effective, the transmission line should carry his power 24 hours a day. But the sun doesn’t shine bright all day long, and the wind doesn’t blow all the time.

As a result, most of China’s new coal-fired power plants are being built alongside wind and solar projects to ensure continuous power transmission, according to a Beijing energy expert. said Kevin Tu, a non-resident researcher at home. Center for Global Energy Policy, Columbia University.

Another major climate change problem posed by China’s continued heavy use of coal is the way coal is mined. Compared to most countries, China’s coal is mined underground, which tends to release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.methane is 20-80 times more potent than carbon dioxide Affects the warming effect in the atmosphere. Chinese physicists estimate that a quarter of China’s domestic methane emissions come from more than 100,000 coal mines, most of which have long been abandoned and are still leaking gas. It is a large coal mine.

One unforeseen factor that could help China reduce its dependence on coal is the property market meltdown.

Two-thirds of China’s electricity is used in factories, with the main consumers being the steel mills, cement factories and glass companies that power China’s vast construction sector.

But years of overbuilding have left 80 million empty apartments, driving home prices down. The number of apartments that developers started construction in the first half of this year fell by nearly a quarter compared to the same period last year.

But even if the housing economy slows, it won’t be able to reverse the huge coal investment China has just made. “Additional coal makes it harder for China to become more ambitious in its commitment to climate change,” said Michal Meydan, head of China energy research at the Oxford Energy Institute, an independent research group. It means there is,” he said. “This could complicate a more aggressive schedule on emissions.”

Lee Yu Contributed to research. Chris Buckley Contributed a report from Taipei, Taiwan.and Lisa Freedman from Beijing.

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