China to add 259 GW of coal capacity, satellite imagery shows

The advocacy and research group, Coalswarm, which claims to have information on 13,000 existing and proposed coal plants worldwide via its Global Coal Plant Tracker, says satellite imagery shows China is set to add 259 GW of new coal-fired capacity to its grid.

In a new report, Coalswarm says the central government in Beijing transferred permit approvals for coal-fired power units to provincial levels of government between 2014 and 2016. This policy shift resulted in a significant upsurge of permit approvals for coal-fired power plants.

Provincial governments then began permitting coal power stations in late 2014 and continued to do so until late 2015. Throughout that year, approval rates of coal power stations multiplied by a factor of four, at least, said Coalswarm. According to its report, China approved some 10 GW of coal-fired power stations in Q2 2014, and around 55 GW in Q2 2015.

Between 2016 and 2017, central authorities reasserted control of the situation and sought to mitigate the effects through a series of suspension orders, including a directive curbing construction, in April 2016, and the supposed cancellation of a further 103 coal power plants, thus reportedly eliminating 120 GW of future coal-fired capacity, in January 2017. Per the initial announcement, this also affected power stations that had already begun construction.

According to the latest information, however, these suspension orders tantamounted to a rescheduling of the plants, rather than permanent suspensions, said Coalswarm, pointing to satellite imagery that appears to show continued construction or commissioning of coal-fired power stations.

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