Global coal plant capacity dips in 2021

China leads in coal power expansion followed by India, says new report

April 26, 2022 07:01 pm | Updated 07:01 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Photo used for representation purpose only.

Photo used for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Global coal-plant capacity under development declined in 2021, according to a report by the Global Energy Monitor, which conducts an annual survey of coal power capacity under development or deployment. China leads in coal power expansion, with about 25,000 MW in new coal plants, followed by India with around 6,100 MW.

After rising in 2020 for the first time since 2015, total coal power capacity under development declined 13% last year, from 525 gigawatts (GW) to 457 GW, a record low. 1 GW is 1,000 MW.

Thirty-four countries have new coal plants under consideration, down from 41 countries in January 2021. China, South Korea, and Japan have pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, but China continued to lead all countries in domestic development of new coal plants, commissioning more coal capacity than the rest of the world combined.

In all, 45,000 MW of global coal power capacity — a little over half of which was from China — was commissioned in 2021 while 26,8000 MW was retired, causing a net increase in the global coal fleet of 18,200 MW. In 2020, the net increase was 11,500 MW, which was the result of 56,800 MW in new capacity and 45,300 MW of global retirements.

The report comes on the back of an influential report earlier this month from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which showed there was no carbon budget left to accommodate new coal plants, and that coal use needed to fall by 75% by 2030 (from 2019 levels) to limit global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Watershed year

2021 was a significant year in the continued global shift away from new coal power, with multiple countries making significant public commitments to pivot their energy futures and swathes of pre-construction coal capacity cancelled.

In all, 65 countries have made commitments not to build new plants — up from 36 in January 2021. This is almost a doubling of the number of countries turning away from new coal in just a single year. Many countries have now scrapped their proposed coal projects and several others have indicated their intent to do the same.

The European Union’s 27 member states retired a record 12.9 GW in 2021, with the most retirements in Germany (5.8 GW), Spain (1.7 GW), and Portugal (1.9 GW). Portugal became coal free in November 2021, nine years before its targeted 2030 phase-out date.

There has been a 77% fall in coal plant capacity in pre-construction since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

On track in India

Speaking at the CoP 26 in Glasgow in November last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 and also pledged to attain 500 GW of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. 

However, India has also insisted that its right to use coal be recognised in the context of principles of climate justice. From 2015 to 2021, pre-construction coal power capacity in the country decreased nearly 90%, from approximately 238.6 GW in 2015, to 36.6 GW in 2020 — and down an additional 12.7 GW in 2021, to 23.8 GW. 1 GW is 1000 MW.

Despite the phase-down of new coal, more than 23.8 GW of planned capacity remains, with more than half (12.6 GW or 52%) permitted; 31.3 GW under construction; and few if any plants with firm retirement dates. The Environment Ministry has introduced more stringent pollution standards for coal plants in 2015, but the deadline to comply with the standards has been repeatedly delayed.

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