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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Growing coal approvals in China ‘constricting’ space for energy storage


View of coal-fired power station and electricity transmission lines in China Photo: Adobe Stock
The coal-fired Datong No. 2 power station, Shanxi Province, China – 50 GW of new coal power has been approved in the country so far this year

Photo: Adobe Stock

At least 50 GW of new coal power was approved across China in the first six months of 2023, according to new research from Greenpeace East Asia.

The findings raise concerns not only about carbon emissions, but also whether key climate solutions, such as energy storage, can scale up properly in an energy sector where coal continues to dominate, consuming limited resources and blocking energy storage’s application, the organisation has said.


Gao Yuhe, Beijing-based project leader, Greenpeace East Asia, comments: ‘We see a lot of new wind and solar and a lot of new coal. Our major concern now, aside from the obvious emissions problem, is that energy storage remains sidelined despite the key role it needs to play in the near future. Building renewable energy but no energy storage is like building wheels but no axel. The energy transition isn’t just about buckets of wind and solar, but also the infrastructure that will tap those power sources into meeting electricity demand.’


Greenpeace East Asia has reviewed project approval documents and finds that the 20.45 GW of new coal approved in 1Q2023 more than doubled to 50.4 GW by the end of 2Q2023. Across these six months, the provinces approving the most new coal in 2023 so far include Hebei with nearly 8 GW, Jiangsu with 7 GW, Shandong also with 7 GW, Guangdong with 6 GW, and Hubei with 5 GW.


Separate analysis by Greenpeace East Asia has looked at which provinces are pursuing energy transition solutions by tracking their ‘key project’ lists. Results showed a 106% increase in the number of energy storage projects prioritised on Guangdong’s key project lists between 2021 and 2023, along with a 41% increase on Jiangsu’s, and 39% on Zhejiang’s. Even among the leading regional economies analysed, however, renewable energy projects only made up 10% of all projects in Jiangsu and less than 4% in Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Shanghai.


‘It’s clear that there’s money to be made in becoming a green manufacturing hub. Provinces are cued in on that. But there is not adequate guidance from the central government. China’s race to lead the green economy has begun. But the competitors are just guessing which way to go. Provinces need to develop clear guidance. And in China that requires policy signals from the central government. Coal is the problem. The signal remains that coal is still an option. The race has begun but there’s still coal on the course,’ continues Gao.


China’s National Development and Reform Commission recently announced efforts to add flexibility to power grids and build energy storage capacity to avoid outages, which are key issues in China’s power system.


‘Continued coal deployment impedes the development of energy storage because they have virtually no supplementary application to one another. Energy storage enables flexible electric grids that coordinate frequent changes in the direction of electricity transmission among multiple electricity generation sources. Coal plants, on the other hand, take a long time to power up and cool down. They do not switch on or off efficiently in terms of emissions or costs. Coal plants engender an inflexible, unidirectional grid management where the coal plant remains on, even if demand momentarily dips,’ concludes Gao.