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China’s coal wind-down garners analysts’ praise

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China will strictly control coal-fired power plants has been praised by energy experts as an important step for the country to achieve its climate goals.

On Thursday, Xi told the Leaders Summit on Climate via video link from Beijing that China will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption during the period of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and phase it down under the 15th Five-Year Plan (2026-30).

Xi’s announcement is “a step in the right direction” and “a continuation of existing trends”, said Kelly Sims Gallagher, professor of energy and environmental policy at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.

In 2005 coal accounted for 73 percent of China’s primary energy consumption, and in 2019 that share dropped to 57 percent, Gallagher said.” (President) Xi Jinping essentially confirms that China will stay the course, continuing to reduce coal as a percentage of primary energy through 2030,” she said.

David Vance Wagner, vice-president for strategic partnerships at the Energy Foundation, said it is important that Xi reiterated the commitment on the global stage.

“A coal ‘phase down’ sends a clear and important political signal domestically. All sectors and stakeholders must contribute to achieve China’s early peaking and early neutrality,” he said.

Xi announced China’s pledge to have carbon dioxide emissions peak before 2030 and for the country to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 during a United Nations General Assembly meeting by video link in September. He reiterated the commitment at Thursday’s summit session, saying China’s time from peak to carbon neutrality will be shorter than those of developed countries.

“Also noteworthy was Xi mentioning support for ‘peaking pioneers from localities, sectors and companies’,” Wagner said. “China is huge and diverse; it’s critical to have an all-of-society approach, and for more advanced regions and actors to pave the way with ambitious climate action now.”

China has recently been in the spotlight for its coal projects. “While the recent new added coal capacity in China is very significant (38 gigawatts in 2020), it is dwarfed by China’s new added capacity in renewables (72 GW in 2020),” said Gallagher. “China’s added capacity in renewables in 2020 was almost twice as large as US added capacity (39 GW in 2020).”

Pushback in the West

In contrast, there is a lot of political pushback against green-themed climate policies in the US. For instance, conservative politicians blamed Texas for relying too much on renewable energy, which they said led to the historic blackout that left millions of people in the state without power in February.

“I was asked to testify in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in February, and I was really surprised to hear a lot of the economic arguments to keep using oil and gas,” said Angel Hsu, an assistant professor of public policy and the environment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

New research, which looks at the levelized cost of energy for solar and wind versus coal, found that it is more expensive not only to build new coal-fired power plants but even just to keep them operating, she said.

“That’s how cost competitive now solar and wind are in terms of levelized cost of electric,” Hsu said. “In the next five years, 94 percent-or virtually every-coal-fired power plant in China is going to be more expensive to run than to actually replace with new renewable power plants.”

She said the same economics might apply in the US, where coal comprises about a-fifth of the electricity supply. “That would be one way to try to convince the opponents of climate policy,” she said.
Source: China Daily

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