Global coal capacity grew last year for the first time since 2015, thanks to an upsurge in plant construction in China that outweighed shutdowns elsewhere.
Coal-burning capacity grew by 34.1 gigawatts in 2019, according to “Boom and Bust 2020: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline,” a report by the Sierra Club, Global Energy Monitor, Greenpeace and the Centre for Energy and Clean Air. While the authors lamented the growth in China, they also noted signs that the world is moving away from coal — the biggest cause of manmade greenhouse gas emissions — such as the accelerating decline in capacity elsewhere, and a drop in the amount of power generated coal worldwide.
They also noted that plants aren’t running full bore.
“The good news is that capacity doesn’t equal emissions,” Rachel Cleetus, climate and energy program policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Karma. “We have seen a lot of unused capacity. Plants are running at under 50% of capacity much of the time.”
The rise in China’s coal capacity is a result of a surge in permit approvals between 2014 and 2016, the authors said. The country’s power industry is advocating for a capacity target in the nation’s next five-year plan that would allow for 200 more coal-fired plants by 2025. This comes as many of the new plants sit idle or underused, with 40% of the capacity that was added last year being relegated to emergency back-up status, according to the report.