Don’t Panic! Chinese Coal Construction Is Actually Slowing.

China coal power plant construction

I was chilling in the batcave yesterday when I was startled by the jangling of an alarm bell.

“It’s the internet alarm, Batboy!” I cried.

Batboy looked up from an issue of Vogue Magazine (he only reads it for the pictures) and said, “Isn’t that the alarm you rigged to go off every time someone is stupid on the internet?”

“Yes, that’s right, Batboy.  It’s been going off every three or four months now.  I hope this increasing frequency is not a sign that the internet is becoming a stupid place.”

With no time to waste, I cranked the bat computer’s starter and immediately discovered (after arranging all the ones and zeros on the viewing table) that a new report on Chinese coal power was out.

China Is Constructing A Lot Of Coal Power Capacity

The report: “Out of Step — China is Driving the Continued Growth of the Global Coal Fleet” was from Global Energy Monitor and doesn’t say that China has 148 gigawatts of coal capacity under construction.

What it does say is China has:

  • 121.3 gigawatts worth of new coal power stations under construction, and…
  • 26.4 gigawatts of coal plant construction that has been suspended but appears likely to proceeded.

But the summed total of 148 gigawatts is the figure everyone seems to be going with. It has popped up all over the place but not one single person or publication I’ve seen has bothered to put it in context — and I don’t mean that is is equal to the existing coal capacity of the EU or six times Australia’s 25 gigawatt coal power capacity.

Upon hearing of the report, environmentally minded souls of a melancholic nature melodramatically declared we’re all doomed, while Scott Morrison took the news decidedly differently and was so excited he had to spend a little alone time with his significant other:

PM Scott Morrison's lump of coal

When approached for comment, the words, “Oh God!  Oh God!  Oh God!  Black Gold!  Texas Tea!”  were heard coming from his office, so he was obviously far too busy offering thoughts and prayers to be disturbed.

The Surprise Is In The Other Direction

What is really strange about this report is how every single mention I’ve seen on the internet regards it as some kind of horrible news we had no idea was coming.  If you didn’t know better you’d think it had leapt out of the dark at us and crushed all our hopes and dreams.

Doom and gloomers have used it as proof we’re all going to die, while clowns who just want to watch the world burn have decided it’s somehow proves renewable energy doesn’t work and are waving the 148 gigawatt figure around as though it’s a crucifix with the power to keep Greta Thunberg at bay.

But, while up to 148 gigawatts of new Chinese coal power capacity is bad news, this bad news is still far less bad than almost anyone dared dream only a few years ago.  The actual message of this report is:

“Things are still shit, but they’re much less shit than they were.”

If you don’t believe me, take look at what reports on China from the same organization by the same authors said in the recent past.  For Chinese coal power generating capacity under construction and likely to proceed, their figures were:

Slapping these figures into a graph gives us this:

Chinese coal power capacity under active development

In 13 months their estimates of how much coal capacity is under construction in China or likely to be completed has fallen by 111 gigawatts.  That’s a 43% drop.

The decline isn’t quite as good as it seems because approximately 36 gigawatts of coal capacity was completed in China in this time.  But if we adjust for that by subtracting the completed capacity it still gives us this:

Coal power capacity under active development in China - adjusted

That’s drop of 75 gigawatts, which is a 34% decrease in a little over a year.  So around a one-third less in 13 months.

Chinese Coal Power — Getting Worse More Slowly Than Ever Before!

If 148 gigawatts of new coal capacity gets built in China and is used at the capacity factor it’s designed for, then — unless countries like Australia and the US stop farting around1 — we can pretty much kiss goodbye to limiting global warming to only 2 degrees.

I’d like to emphasize that “only” 2 degrees of warming is not a good thing.  It’s like saying, “I only crushed my foot with a bowling ball twice”.  It’s not something you can laugh off.  Two degrees of warming means heatwaves that will kill tens of thousands in poorer nations and bushfires even worse than what we currently have.  Or at least worse in places where climate change doesn’t prevent the bush from recovering.

But, compared to reports from just 7 and 13 months ago, this latest one on Chinese coal power plant construction is bloody good news even though it is about a situation that’s still pretty bloody awful.  Rather than pissing and moaning about it we should be reasonably happy.  Like when you count your fingers after removing your hand from a dingo’s mouth and you end up with more than you expected.2

Footnotes

  1. Actually, there is very little methane in human farts, so feel free to fart a bit.
  2. If you have more fingers than you started with, they belong to someone else.  Unless they are attached, in which case you have been bitten by a dingo from Maralinga.

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