One of the central issues debated at the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow, which concluded on Saturday, was coal. Or to be more precise, “putting coal electricity back into history”, as Alok Sharma, president of COP 26, said.
However, it is difficult to achieve this goal.
Although the burning of coal is a major contributor to climate change, contributing 44% of global carbon dioxide emissions, coal still accounts for 37% of the world’s primary energy supply. More than a third of the world’s electricity production comes from coal.
China is a developing country with the largest population in the world. Its energy demand has increased alongside its economic development. It is therefore not difficult to imagine the magnitude of the economic and social impact in the event of an energy supply disruption. A nationwide wave of electricity consumption rationing and even severe power outages that began at the end of August this year have affected economic and social operations and the daily lives of residents over 20. provinces across the country. Although this is largely a consequence of a short-term coal supply shortage and imperfect electricity market mechanism, and not the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. greenhouse gases, the consequences of indiscriminately phasing out coal-fired electricity during the transition to carbon neutrality without meeting the electricity supply and safety requirements were evident.
China’s electricity sector accounts for around 12% of global carbon emissions and almost all of these emissions come from coal-fired power generation. It is therefore natural to see growing global concern about China’s coal-fired power sector. China accounts for 50 percent of the world’s installed capacity of in-service coal-fired power plants. The net increase in installed coal-fired power capacity in China over the past five years was 150 GW, while the rest of the world saw a net increase of 9 GW.
The policies in place, the actions undertaken and the results obtained fully demonstrate that China is committed to its low-carbon transition which will make it possible to achieve a dynamic balance between energy security and the reduction of carbon emissions according to its own national conditions. .
Improving the energy efficiency of China’s coal-fired power generation units continues to dominate the world. At the end of 2020, China had around 950 GW of coal-fired power plants with ultra-low pollutant retrofits and over 800 GW of units with energy-efficient retrofits. The decline in the rate of coal consumption has enabled the coal-fired power industry to reduce its CO2 emissions in 2020 by 370 million tonnes compared to the 2010 level.
China is sparing no effort to phase out its obsolete coal-fired power plants, with a total of 76.83 GW phased out from 2006 to 2010, and an additional 120 GW from 2011 to 2020, helping to advance structural optimization and technological progress of coal. power units drawn.
During the period of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), China implemented the most stringent reform on the supply side of coal-fired electricity to guard against the risk of overcapacity of coal-fired power plants by construction. A total of 150 GW of coal-fired power projects have been canceled, halted or suspended.
If the keywords for China’s pre-2020 coal-fired power generation policy were “clean and efficient” and “optimize structure,” then the keywords for the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25) are ” flexible ”,“ carbon peak ”and“ security of electricity and heat supply ”.
Flexible refers to the flexible operation of existing and new coal-fired power plants, allowing a high penetration of renewable energies, which represents a realistic path to accelerate the development of renewable energies in the medium term.
Peak Carbon requires enabling efficient coal-fired power plants to generate more electricity, using relatively inefficient coal-fired power as peak units with reduced operating hours, and decommissioning obsolete or obsolete coal-fired power plants. well using them as emergency relief to further optimize the efficiency of existing capacity. Less coal use and more renewable deployment can allow CO2 emissions to peak in the electricity sector.
The security of electricity and heat supply indicates that China is still in the middle of its industrialization process with rapid urbanization, which means inevitable growth in demand for electricity and heat. Therefore, it is important to save energy and reduce emissions by taking advantage of existing coal-fired power capacity and developing cogeneration of electricity and heat to replace inefficient boilers and coal. in bulk. For the safety of the power supply, coal-fired units that are to be removed or do not meet environmental protection standards, instead of being dismantled, should be reused for emergency backup if necessary. The number and scale of new approved coal-fired power plant projects should be strictly controlled and they should function as guarantees for national electricity supply and energy security.
China’s comprehensive peak carbon and carbon neutrality policy document and the 2030 peak carbon action plan have clearly set the course for the future. Added coal power projects and coal consumption will be strictly controlled during the period of the 14th Five Year Plan, then the curve will become flat during the period of the 15th Five Year Plan (2026-30). The objective is to build an electrical system with an increasing proportion of new energy which is characterized by a high supply / consumption of clean energy. Regarding the long-term energy transition, China has set itself a very ambitious target of 80% non-fossil energy consumption by 2060. Based on the objectives announced above, China will enter into a peak period for coal-fired power installation, power generation and carbon emissions between 2025 and 2030, after which the number of added coal-fired power generation units will stop increasing, and coal-fired power generation will continue to decline after 2030 and eventually exit the power sector.
The key to tackling climate change is action. China always honors its words. All parties should work together to ensure that the Paris Agreement is implemented on the ground consistently and reliably, and avoid turning around on what they have promised.
The author is a professor at the School of Economics and Management, North China University of Electric Power, and deputy director of the Beijing Key Laboratory for New Energies and Low-Carbon Development. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
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