Melanie Hart is a Senior Fellow and Director of China Policy at the Center for American Progress. Luke H. Bassett is the Associate Director of Domestic Energy and Environment Policy at the Center. Blaine Johnson is a China and Asia Policy Analyst at the Center.
In December 2016, the Center for American Progress brought a group of energy experts to China to find out what is really happening.
We visited multiple coal facilities—including a coal-to-liquids plant—and went nearly 200 meters down one of China’s largest mines to interview engineers, plant managers, and local government officials working at the front lines of coal in China.
We found that the nation’s coal sector is undergoing a massive transformation that extends from the mines to the power plants, from Ordos to Shanghai.
The nation is on track to overdeliver on the emissions reduction commitments it put forward under the Paris climate agreement, and making coal cleaner is an integral part of the process.
From a climate perspective, the ideal scenario would be for China to shut down all of its coal-fired power plants and switch over to clean energy full stop. In reality, China’s energy economy is a massive ship that cannot turn on a dime.
The shift toward renewables is happening: China’s Paris commitment includes a promise to install 800 gigawatts to 1,000 gigawatts of new renewable capacity by 2030, an amount equivalent to the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity system.
While China and the United States have roughly the same land mass, however, China has 1.3 billion people to the United States’ 325 million.
It needs an electricity system that is much larger, so adding the renewable equivalent of one entire U.S. electricity system is not enough to replace coal in the near to medium term.
To bridge the gap, China is rolling out new technologies to drastically reduce local air pollution and climate emissions from the nation’s remaining coal power plants.
(Seriously, it’s a must-read for all energy observers!)