Following a decade-long trend of expansion in coal-fired power capacity globally, new coal power plant construction fell by almost two-thirds (62%) in 2016, PV Magazine has reported. It’s the finding of a new report by green groups Sierra Club, CoalSwarm, and Greenpeace. The report concludes that new coal power is in “freefall”, with a 48% fall in pre-construction activity, and even a 19% fall in ongoing construction activity.
Renewables helped drive the massive drop in new coal power. Top coal consuming countries such as China and India seem to be turning more towards new renewable energy capacity. Combined, China and India have halted 68 gigawatts of coal-fired power construction in over 100 locations. Over 60 gigawatts of coal capacity has also been retired during the past two years, mostly in the EU and US.
Some in the coal industry are saying that the fall in new capacity is not because China is transitioning away from coal. Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association has said, “Contrary to the picture being portrayed by certain quarters, China’s climate pledge suggests that coal will continue to be central to its energy solutions albeit through efficiencies including the use of new coal technologies”. For India and countries in south-east Asia, he said that “excluding coal from the energy mix is not an option – it is essential for economic growth and critical in securing energy access”.
The report emphasises that for the global warming temperature increase to stay below the agreed to 2C by 2050, both China and India will have to continue to turn away from high-carbon power generation. The limit of 2C was outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. It’s notable that from 2006 to 2016, China and india accounted for 86% of all new coal power globally. One of the reasons for the fall in new coal plants is said to be that too much new capacity had been built during the previous decade. The report also says that OECD countries will need to quickly retire older coal-fired power stations and replace them with renewable energy.
It’s encouraging that, although still a small overall percentage, global solar capacity increased by an impressive 50% in 2016 alone. The world now has 305 gigawatts of solar power installed, up from only 50 gigawatts 7 years ago.