EIA: Chinese Coal Use Will Plateau as Renewables Gain

Chinese coal-fired electricity generation is expected to flatten through 2040 as renewables fill the gap caused by increased energy demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) International Energy Outlook 2017.

According to the study, coal accounted for more than 72% of China’s energy generation in 2015. By 2040, however, coal’s share of generation will have decreased to only 47% while the generation shares of renewables and nuclear increase. Regardless of the gains for renewables and nuclear, coal, natural gas, and petroleum are still expected to make up a majority of China’s energy mix in 2040.

“EIA expects electricity generated from natural gas to grow by 6.5% between 2015 and 2040, with an addition of 70 GW of natural gas capacity. To support continued development, some energy-intensive urban areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan area and the northeast region of China will be encouraged to replace coal with natural gas,” an EIA press release notes.

China is currently working to reduce its dependence on coal and as a part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the nation vowed to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in energy consumption to roughly 20% by 2030. The nation is also working to reach goals set in its 13th Five-Year Plan by canceling or postponing 150 GW of new coal capacity and retiring up to 20 GW of older plants.

Currently, wind and solar make up a very small portion of the nation’s energy mix. Solar power accounts for just 0.5% and wind 2.7%. “EIA projects solar capacity to grow to more than 300 GW by 2040, or by more than 6% per year from 2015 to 2040. Similarly, EIA expects nearly 280 GW of wind capacity to come online between 2015 and 2040, a growth rate of about 4% per year,” according to the release.

China currently has 38 operational nuclear power reactors and 19 more under construction. Under the nation’s Five-Year Plan, an additional 58 GW of nuclear is expected to be added to the grid by 2020.


Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.