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.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Going to do my bit and persuade the missus we need Elon’s new Cybertruck… or should that be CYBRTRK ™. Would she be game to drive it, I wonder?

    Pity about the smashed windows… . Showmanship can have its drawbacks!~

  2. ChrisOldCodger says

    Don’t panic – the clarion call by Corporal Jones is Dads Army.

    On its umpteenth rerun on Foxtel, Dads Army is British humour at its best – pantomime mixed with music hall, plus Boys Own adventures.

    It is a truly funny show, as good as Yes Minister, or It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

    Yet on another level, it is shrewd and insightful commentary on human nature, especially that of leadership and what constitutes true bravery.

    And those who use the phrase in context are revealed as experts in the elements of humour.

    • Apart from being L-C Jones catchphrase in Dad’s Army, “Don’t Panic!” was also “written in large friendly letters” the on the cover of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the electronic guide introduced to us by Douglas Adams in his radio series and book of the same name.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Don't_Panic

      • Thanks Alex – did not remember that – read HHGTTG years ago, and saw the TV series as well. Thought the book was excellent, the TV series not so much.

        Did not know of the radio series so shall search for that.

        BTW my reading primer was Collected Punch 1900 – 1920 – at a very tender age was very knowledgeable about WW 1 trench jokes, many of which seemed to crop up in BlackAdder.

        All cartoons, and my favourite was a picture of a small boy holding a cat by the tail. Mummy, with cigarette and martini in hand, told small boy “Stop pulling the cat’s tail”. Small boy, very earnest, with glasses, responded “Actually, I am just holding the cat’s tail, it is the cat that is doing the pulling”

        If I ever go back to uni and do a PhD I would like to do one on British humour.

        My grandad in the 1950’s subscribed to a Dutch magazine called “Husmor”, which had a wonderful collection of what we now call Dad jokes. Plus the odd article on the elements of humour.

        ChrisOldCodger

  3. David Ritson says

    Could you add the retirements to the figures please.
    Much of the new capacity build is to replace older inefficient units polluting cities.
    Should look even better then.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Very roughly perhaps only 8 gigawatts of coal capacity were retired in that period. Not a lot, but it does improve things. Especially since, as you mentioned, it would likely be the least efficient capacity.

  4. Erik Christiansen says

    Damn, it isn’t much fun to be reminded that we’ll bolt past 2 deg of global heating at a canter. Out on our farm the last dam dried up in March, and they’re still dry and cracked after winter and spring. Now we go into summer with dry dams. And that’s down in Gippsland – not the baking north.

    The hot dry winds are stronger and more persistent than at any time in the last 55 years, but at least the kangaroos keep the grass short (dunno what’s keeping alive the bit that’s still there), so no need to keep any stock for that.
    The possums have killed 50 year old trees in the garden as they scratch for a feed, and the fruit trees in the orchard are on their last legs.

    That’s with 1 deg warming. Another will see not just more farms become nonviable, but whole farming communities. Painful as that is, the numbers (of people) being crunched are small compared to the myriad cities which will follow Jakarta and Venice in finding that deep gumboots are not enough as melting accelerates in educational nonlinearity.

    I’m making sure that the ember blanket under the ridge capping on the new build is double thickness, and tight as a fish’s derriere. Anywhere else there’s a little light ingress gets caulked. It may be only BAL19, but the number of years between big fires is going to plummet as both winds and temperatures rise. The folly of considering carbon parked in native forest as “sequestered” is pretty much debunked now, as a million hectares of NSW has burnt in a few months.

    The problem with our dear leader being afflicted by faith is that it is not an indicator for being adept at dealing with reality, or learning from it.

    • Des Scahill says

      Hi Erik,

      Sadly, you are right. There’s already indications that average temperatures are rising more quickly than earlier global warming forecasting models predicted and climate scientists are now updating their models as they uncover the reasons for that.

      From a practical point of view, what matters more are the ‘extremes’ of fluctuation around those higher trend averages. (ie the peaks and troughs and their rate of occurrence).

      One of the difficulties is, – so far as I can see – many think in terms of ‘deviation from what was our familiar normal’, which then leads them down the path of trying to create some ‘adapted and modified version of their existing business as usual’ life when some ‘event’ happens.

      But that general approach is not going to work for much longer in my view. Next few times around – which are likely to happen sooner than we expect – maintaining ‘business as usual’ could well become near impossible, and striving to return to same will be a misguided response.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Looking on the bright side, hopefully the ever declining cost of solar and also wind power, as well as reactors coming online as part of China’s cut back nuclear program, means many of these new coal power plants will ever never be used or will be shut down after only a few years use. Fingers crossed! Of course, we also have to hope the electrification of transport causes oil consumption to plummet.

  5. Just watch the insurance companies for the truth about climate change. I live in the Taree area. We evacuated twice over the last three weeks. Got my House and Contents form Coles this week UP 40% Tried Real Insurance and Woolworths Insurance. As soon as I typed in Taree up came “we cannot insure you in this area. Go to Insurance Council site for other insurers. Looks like they sure believe in Global Warming.

  6. Hi Ronald,

    Thanks for your article and bringing clarity about the report.

    I am wondering if you can clarify on this:

    “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”

    What do you think it is practically that Australia could do? I.e. how can we realistically make any dent on what China is outputting and will be outputting?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      It’s worse than you think, Paul.

      China is divided into 26 provinces with an average of around 50 million people each. While there is significant variation, on average each province emits less CO2 than Australia does. So there is no point in one province lowering its emissions as that won’t have much effect on the total. Even worse, each province is divided into an average of 13 prefectures, each with far less CO2 emissions that Australia. If a prefecture reduced its emissions it would be utterly insignificant and a global scale and completely pointless. Because every single Chinese coal power station is located within a single prefecture, the situation is hopeless. But it’s even worse than that. Each prefecture has an average of 4 million people and there is no point in any individual lowering their emissions as it will have no effect on a world scale.

      When the situation is considered rationally and logically like this we are clearly all doomed. It’s like how in Australia not one of use teaches our children to follow the law since one criminal less isn’t going to have any effect on crime statistics.

  7. There’s no such thing as a Free Lunch.
    Realistically speaking I don’t see the problem; ‘climate warming’ is just Mother Nature doing her housekeeping.
    Since life on this planet began 4000,000,000 years ago (ie Pre-Brackles) the bottom line was always ‘Survival of the fittest’ ( Natural Selection’ mostly through adaptation to changing circumstances). It’s the process that got US to the here and now, warts and all..

    The next step is obvious: adapt or go extinct. Adapt to climate-warming or die out. Why does it matter? Are we really so important in the Big Scheme that the rules shouldn’t apply to us…….Or, put another way: if we cease and desist from burning ALL fossil fuels, is it likely we’ll resuscitate the dinosaurs?
    End-note. Cockroaches existed before the dinosaurs and will be here long after we’re gone.. But are they HAPPY? It’s clear they never drove 4-wheel-drives or had air-conditioned houses.

  8. Ronald Brakels says

    Some new figures on China’s birth rate have come in and it has hastened its rapid fall. It looks like the population there will pretty much cease growing by 2023 and start to fall by 2027. So presumably a lot of the current coal plant construction either won’t be used or won’t be used much.

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