China’s Coal Fleet Continues to Grow (Quick Facts)

The Inflation Reduction Act is now law.  A lot of the enthusiasm about its enactment has to do with the $369 billion that will be spent to reduce U.S. carbon emissions.  However, climate change is a global challenge, so it’s fair to ask what China, the world’s top carbon emitter, is doing about its use of coal.  To help answer the question, a few quick facts are highlighted below.[1]  To begin with, you probably know that China pledged to stop increasing its carbon emissions “before 2030,” which leaves eight years for China to continue increasing its emissions.

China’s coal fleet is growing in size.

  • China’s coal fleet totals almost 1.1 million megawatts (MW).  This is half the global coal fleet and roughly the same size as the entire U.S. electricity grid (1.15 million MW of natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewables).
  • China added almost 189,000 MW to its coal fleet over the past five years.  By comparison, the U.S. retired 37,000 MW of coal over the same period.  In other words, China added five times more coal than the U.S. retired.
  • China has almost 280,000 MW of coal under construction or in various stages of development, which would more than offset the existing U.S coal fleet (207,000 MW) if it were eliminated.  
  • If China adds to its fleet all of the coal that is under development, the Chinese fleet would total 1.38 million MW, more than six times the size of the current U.S. coal fleet.  By the end of this decade, China’s fleet could be more than ten times the size of the U.S. fleet.  (U.S. utilities have announced plans to shut down almost 93,000 MW of coal by 2030, raising serious concerns about grid reliability.)

China’s emissions have been rising.

  • China is the world’s largest emitter of energy-related CO2e emissions at almost 12.86 billion tonnes last year, slightly more than 30 percent of global emissions.  The U.S. was second at 5.21 billion tonnes in 2021, slightly less than 13 percent of global emissions.
  • China’s energy-related CO2e emissions increased by almost 810 million tonnes during 2019-2021, whereas U.S. emissions decreased by 242 million tonnes.  China’s increase more than offset the aggregate reduction of 716 million tonnes by the rest of the world during the same time period.

China’s coal demand is increasing.

  • China consumed 50 percent (3.41 billion tonnes) of the world’s thermal coal last year and is projected to increase demand another 114 million tonnes by 2024.   The increase alone is equivalent to almost one-third of current U.S. demand.
  • U.S. thermal coal demand was 491 million tonnes last year, making China’s coal demand seven times greater than the U.S.  Domestic coal demand is projected to decline by 68 million tonnes to 413 million tonnes by 2024.

By 2024, China’s coal demand is projected to exceed U.S. coal demand by 3.1 billion tonnes.

[1] The data and information in this paper are taken from Global Coal Plant Tracker, July 2022; Energy Information Administration 2022 Annual Energy Outlook; International Energy Agency (IEA) Coal 2021Analysis and forecast to 2024, December 2021; IEA Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021, March 2022; and a proprietary data base on announced U.S coal retirements.