BEIJING           -           While the rest of the world has cut coal-based electricity over the past 18 months, China has added enough to power 31 million homes. That’s according to a study that says China is now in the process of building or reviving coal equivalent to the EU’s entire generating capacity. China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal plants outside its borders. Is China behind global coal power surge?

China’s reliance on coal as a key step in developing the economy led to the fabled “one coal plant a week” building programme between 2006 and 2015.

But the push had many negative consequences, choking the air with pollution in many Chinese cities and leading to huge overcapacity. Many of these plants were only able to run 50% of the time. In 2015, in an attempt to curb the growth, the national government tried to clamp down on new-build coal. However, it continued to allow provincial governments the freedom to issue permits for new coal plants. That move misfired badly. Local authorities subsequently permitted up to five times more plants than in any comparable period.

According to Ted Nace, from coal researchers Global Energy Monitor, it was like a “snake swallowing a goat”. “This goat that the snake swallowed is still moving through the snake, and it’s coming out in the form of another 20% in the Chinese coal fleet on top of a fleet that was already over-built,” Mr Nace added.

The researchers say that through 2018 and up to June 2019, countries outside of China cut their coal power capacity by 8.1 gigawatts (GW). In the same period, China added 43GW, enough to power around 31 million homes. The authors say that right now the amount of coal power under construction or under suspension and likely to be revived is about 147.7GW, an amount that is almost the same as the entire coal generating capacity of the European Union (150GW).

Compared to the rest of the world, China is building about 50% more coal plants than are under construction in all other countries combined.