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Coal

Published on May 15th, 2015 | by Joshua S Hill

107

China Coal Use Continues To Fall “Precipitously”

May 15th, 2015 by  


New figures show that China’s use of coal has continued to fall dramatically over the first four months of 2015, according to Greenpeace Energydesk.

In fact, following news in October of 2014 that showed coal use had fallen for the first time this century, these most recent figures suggest that the decline in China’s coal use is actually accelerating.

According to Energydesk, coal consumption in China fell by almost 8%, and CO2 emissions dropped by approximately 5% over the first four months of 2015, when compared to the first four months of 2014. Impressively, for China, their figures are roughly the same as the reductions seen in the UK — whereas the reduction in coal use is equal to four times UK total consumption, a strong reminder of the need for China to increase energy efficiency.

chart

Greenpeace Energydesk reported the figures from the country’s National Energy Administration in October of 2014, revealing that China’s coal use dropped by 1.28% in 2014.

However, in March of this year, new data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China indicates that coal consumption dropped by 2.9%.

As can be seen below, non-coal power generation growth in 2014 has been primarily the result of improved hydropower conditions and hydropower capacity growth. Nevertheless, renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar, and biomass are also contributing to the overall growth of non-coal power.

chart (1)

 

These non-coal power generation options are only going to continue, as well, as can be seen by taking a quick stroll back through the CleanTechnica China archives. Numerous companies are making moves into the country’s solar and wind industry, boosting China’s overall value as a renewable energy investment destination.

Image Credit: Energydesk






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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • CR

    Yes, but I meant the supply side. Even if you have a 90% CF “baseload” power plant (which would be very high for coal), you need dispatchable capacity to cover the demand during the 10% of the time it’s offline. And you can cover baseload demand with 30% CF intermittent plants equally well, if you have enough dispatchable generation.

    Whether the generation is intermittent only starts to matter when the total wind/solar generation capacity is (significantly) over the baseline demand. And even then only if you do not have storage.

    • Mark Duffett

      “you need dispatchable capacity to cover the demand during the 10% of the time it’s offline” Not if you have ten of the 90% CF plants (simplifying, but you get the idea).

      “can cover baseload demand with 30% CF intermittent plants equally well, if you have enough dispatchable generation” Indeed, where ‘enough’ means ‘bloody heaps’.

      • Bob_Wallace

        If you’ve built your grid to require 10 plants then you need to be able to step in with dispatchable backup when one of those plants goes down. And sometimes those plants go down for months, years, or forever.

        If it takes “bloody heaps” then it takes “bloody heaps”. It will still be cheaper than nuclear. Take the math I gave you and plug in 15 cents for storage.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Yes, it’s cumulative solar installed. I corrected in the 2014 version.

    10.6 GW.

    I’ll forgive you. Zhang, as far as I can tell, did not gen those numbers based on changing prices. That’s a continuing problem with most agencies/individuals who make renewable energy predictions, they use past behavior and don’t account for rapidly dropping prices.

    You might be interested in reading this –

    http://cleantechnica.com/2015/03/30/greenpeace-aces-installed-renewable-forecasts-surprised/

  • Bob_Wallace

    What you are talking about is the daily/annual minimum demand.

    There is no need use “baseload”/always on generators to fill that need. A mixture of wind/solar/hydro/storage/dispatchable generation will do the job just fine.

    We’ve gotten into a pattern of talking about ‘baseload demand’ and ‘baseload generation’ because most of our electricity came from plants that needed to be on as long as possible, At least, plants that didn’t turn on and off easily.

    That left us talking about the minimum daily demand as an amount of generation we could run ‘non-stop’. Then we had to figure out how to meet the demand above that with storage and dispatchable generation.

    We’ve simply moved on past that point now.

    • Mark Duffett

      I’m not saying a ‘mixture of wind/solar/hydro/storage/dispatchable (by which I presume you mean gas) generation’ is impossible. What’s very much more arguable is whether it’s the *best* solution, particularly noting that gas is still pretty problematic in climate terms. If we’re ‘past that point now’, please point me to where it’s been done on a national scale other than places with large natural endowments of baseload (for want of a better word) resources like hydro and geothermal.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Wind and solar have become cheap in only the last couple of years and you want me to point out some place that has taken advantage of that development and converted their grid to wind and solar in a few months?
        Dispatchable includes not only natural gas but also hydro, biomass and biogas.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Your link is dead.

    But let me try to address your concern. Let’s talk US prices since we got price data there and we don’t for China. The economics should roughly hold.

    First, the price of solar, without subsidies, is running about 7 cents per kWh and wind, without subsidies, is running under 4 cents. The price of solar and wind is expected to continue to decrease.

    Electricity from the new Vogtle reactors is going to cost about 12 to 13 cents and that’s with subsidies. Vogtle received very low financing rates which future builds would not receive (recession era funding).

    New storage, as best as I can determine, in pump-up hydro facilities would run about 5 or 6 cents. We seem to have advanced battery storage coming on line which should be able to store electricity for up to two days for about 5 cents.

    Now let’s look at what it would cost to get about 80% of our electricity from wind and solar with the other 20% coming from other renewables (geothermal, hydro, biomass, etc.)

    Out of that 80% the total should break down to about 30% direct from solar, 40% direct from wind and 30% from stored wind/solar.

    30% @ 7c + 40% @ 4c + 11c (5c storage + 6c w/s) = 7c/kWh

    Compare 7c for wind + solar + storage to nuclear at 12+c.

    And, don’t forget, nuclear also needs storage and backup generation. We built over 20 GW of pump-up hydro storage and some CAES in order to load match and time shift nuclear. And we have to keep backup reserve spinning because there is no way to predict when a nuclear reactor will go offline.

    Wind and solar are highly predictable on a short time basis. We don’t need to keep backup spinning when either the Sun or wind are strong, just start fill-in up, if needed, a few minutes before the Sun set or wind slows.

    • Mark Duffett

      Try this link: http://globalchange.mit.edu/CECP/publications/latest/2849. If that fails, the reference is Jiang et al 2014,

      ‘Carbon emissions in China: How far can new efforts bend the curve?’ Tsinghua-MIT China Energy & Climate Project Report 267.

      One upshot is that I don’t think using the US as a proxy for Chinese economics is valid, even roughly. The US example shows only that any industry can be stifled given excessive regulation driving costs sufficiently high.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m not sure what you’re getting out of that paper that supports a significantly larger role for nuclear in China past the current build out. The paper is basically modeling how much low carbon generation would be needed to turn the CO2 curve downward. It’s simply assuming a mix of renewables and nuclear.

        Materials cost for wind turbines, solar panels, concrete, steel and copper are going to be fairly similar between China and the US. China, for a while, will have lower labor costs but those are rising.

        Since nuclear has a high labor content that does close the gap somewhat between wind/solar and nuclear costs. But, as I pointed out, the US spread is very significant. Wind and solar should settle in at about 20% to 25% the cost of nuclear.

        The cost difference is immense. If one generation technology costs 3x to 5x as much as another which do you think will be built?

        • Mark Duffett

          It wasn’t the significantly larger role for nuclear I was pointing to so much as the far lower (more realistic) wind and solar build rates in the Accelerated Effort scenario. The cost differential you point to is only achieved by setting the value of reliable 24/7365 generation (and storage?) to zero; as indicated elsewhere I reject that (and so, apparently, do the Chinese: http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/why-china-will-go-all-in-on-nuclear-power/).

          • Bob_Wallace

            I see nothing realistic about the wind and solar numbers they used. Are you aware how rapidly China is installing wind and solar? I’ll show you below.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “The cost differential you point to is only achieved…”.

            The cost differential is what it is.

            If you are trying to to talk about the cost of integrating large amounts of wind, solar or nuclear into a grid that is a different topic.

            I showed you above the rough cost of a wind + solar + storage 24/365 supply of power.

            I lowballed the cost of 24/365 nuclear as I added in no cost for backup generation when a reactor is offline. I also added in no cost for storage in order to load match. Once you build more than the daily/annual minimum there is an extra cost of adding additional nuclear or coal to a grid.

            The US built over 20 GW of PuHS in order to load follow with a mostly nuclear/coal grid and Japan built 25 GW.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s an updated installed solar graph for China. It includes 2014.

  • Bob_Wallace

    China has a decent amount of nuclear in the pipes at this time. Those reactors were planned and construction started before solar and wind became cheap.

    What I expect is that China will throttle back on new starts over time. The people running China are good with math. They, I think, will decide that it makes more sense to get more clean energy on line for less money with renewables and get it on line years sooner so that they can close coal plants faster.

    Let me show you another set of predictions for what will happen in China. Nuclear continues to grow slowly but remains a small percentage of Chinese electricity generation. Wind and solar become the major sources.

    I find this latter prediction more believable. That’s what economics would predict.

  • jburt56

    I assume the units on the horizontal axis of top graph are calendar years?

  • Dag Johansen

    Well . . . perhaps that “Under the Dome” movie has had some effect on policy-makers.

  • Dag Johansen

    Well, we are never going to see that Titanic 2 now are we? Good!

  • Dag Johansen

    This will help boot Tony Abbott out of office.

  • heinbloed

    Coal usage in China in 2013 was higher than until recently announced, therefore the drop in percentages in 2014 was larger as well.

    No link for this.

    Power generation via thermal energy dropped by 4% in 2015 during the first quarter says Reuters:

    “Thermal power generation, predominantly fired by coal, fell
    nearly 4 percent in the first quarter of the year, as the
    world’s second-largest economy shifted away from energy-guzzling
    sectors and boosted cleaner fuels such as hydro, nuclear and
    wind”

    ( http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/05/08/china-economy-trade-commodities-idUKL4N0XZ20T20150508 )

  • ttman

    2015 was the most likely year for China to hit Peak Coal in a prediction in a 2007 Energy Watch Group report. And that is Peak Coal from the production standpoint – can’t produce any more. Not the newer version of it – don’t want or need any more.

    • Larmion

      Actually, many smaller privately owned mines in China are idle or even closed. That suggests the ‘problem’ is demand-side, nut supply side.

      If native production capacity were the problem, the solution is obvious: there is a huge overcapacity around the Pacific, from the US to Indonesia. China could just import extra coal at bottom dollar prices, as Japan is doing more and more since its nuclear reactors are idle.

      • Matt

        Japan’s increase is a temporary bump. They will get turned back around also. The question is how long it takes the government to wake up and slap their utilities into line. Yes they need to update their grid, yes they need to add some storage (for balancing). But they could add a ton of geothermal and still lots of room for rooftop solar.

        • Larmion

          The problem is that most geothermal potential is in nature reserves or in tourist traps. The government is reluctant to allow any sort of development in either kind of area.

          Onshore wind would be a very good option (as it is everywhere), but only if the grid is seriously strengthened. Japan’s best wind resources are in the sparsely populated, poor north of the country. Getting that power to the urban heartland will take investment. Same story for solar.

          Japan’s best hope would be to restart its safest reactors asap in order to buy it some time. Offshore and perhaps marine energy are Japan’s best bet, but they need a few more years worth of research and development.

      • ttman

        Mines being idle or closed could be a sign of no peak, but it also could be a sign of a peak. One of the situations at a peak is that stuff remains in the ground but it has become uneconomic to extract.

        However, not importing coal to make up for what you might not be producing, is a sign that they are doing voluntary reductions. Good point.

        • Larmion

          Could be, but that wouldn’t explain why larger state owned mines continue to operate in the same fields. It would very much seem that lack of demand, and thus low prices, are causing the shakeout.

          Plus, there are vast coal fields in the west of China that haven’t even been tapped yet. China has enough coal left in the ground to wreck the climate a dozen times. May it rest in peace forever.

          Peak oil/coal/gas are still far, far away from a purely geological perspective. Fortunately, the cost of tapping increasingly inconvient resources (due to location, depth, level of refining required and so on) is already putting a break on FF growth. It’s the economy, stupid.

          • ttman

            Where do you get information on coal fields in China and what companies are working/not working them?

            The peaking of those resources is based on “tapping increasingly inconvenient resources” and limitations on getting stuff out at a desired rate. When the United States peaked in oil production in 1970 and natural gas production a few years later (fracking has changed that for now but the point is the same), we still had years of reserves of both. And we didn’t lower production to conserve what we had, we just couldn’t produce any more than that economically.

            I think Peak Oil is very close. Oil discoveries peaked in the 1960’s and have declined since then. It is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to get oil. There was a very limited response to the highest inflation-adjusted plateau ever – mainly, US fracking. Fracking was predicted by the optimistic EIA in 2014 to peak in 2019. The price plunge has clouded that situation, but when fracking goes down, it is likely that, so does the world.

          • eveee

            When someone tells you there is x years of fuel left watch out. The asterisk is at today’s rate of consumption. But if consumption increases by an annual percentage growth rate, it’s exponential. The words 100 years of x left at present consumption means what?

            Suppose we consumed at a groeth rate of 7%. That’s doubling about every 10 years. 1 + 2 + 4 + 8… Whoops, in forty years we are over 10x the first year. We just used up our 100 year resource in less than 40 years. Expect the same for natural gas. Gas consumption up is increasing exponentially.
            We can expect limits with renewables or anything else. The fun ride is over with billions of people and growing demand.
            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY

            We heard things like 500 years of coal. It also ignores that reserves cannot all be mined, because it’s uneconomic.

            Coal is no longer economic, more expensive than wind, gas, and solar.

  • john

    When China decided to slowly use less Thermal coal the price plummeted.
    They only took out 125 million tonnes however the price just went down.
    China is trying to use more RE and has a positive plan to go that way.
    Bit of a pity the west could not follow the lead.

    • Larmion

      You’re right, the west is not following the lead. It’s leading. Coal use has been declining throughout the western world, with Britain and a few other big users even going for zero.

  • Epicurus

    What if China does a 180 and becomes the world leader in renewable energy while the Republican controlled Congress continues to deny anthropogenic climate change, evolution and an earth over 6000 years old?

    That would be the best advertisement for Chinese communism than anything.

    • eveee

      Not to mention showing China as a responsible member of the world community and exposing the US intransigence in matters affecting all the members of the world. China may be anxious to give back the title of “Worlds Worst Greenhouse Gas Emitter”.

      • Epicurus

        And worst air polluter. Air pollution in China is killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens a year. The Chinese government needs to show it cares about the health and welfare of its people.

    • SeeRexx

      that sould be the best advertisement to a real climat slow down movement, at last. I hate it when someone oppose communism to capitalism when the issue is global.

    • Ross

      Do the Earth being 6,000 years old people know that it is based on an estimate by the Anglican Church of Ireland Bishop Ussher and was only incorporated into the Bible in 1701. The modern CofI is very liberal, allowing women priests and not opposing gay marriage. Christianity with most of the bad bits ignored.

    • Bob_Wallace

      China has already announced that they have done their 180, in terms of governmental direction. China has stated that they intend to become a leader in the fight against climate change.

      Contrast that with the US Republican Congress that fights to support their fossil fuel benefactors.

      • nakedChimp

        This might be the only moment in human history that a command-economy has an upside..

  • Zach

    The reductions were equal to UK’s entire emissions during the period. Not to their reductions.

  • This looks good. I’m not one to complain or criticize about HTML graph formating, but it’s good to have numbers on line chart axes. Asia has been trending down in coal use since about 2010/2011. Nonetheless, asia consumes a lot of coal. The graph below is either from EIA or World Coal. I forgot. A chunk of this has to do with technical conversion and efficiency gains. Another big chunk, for China at least, has to do with economics. China’s economic growth is reducing. And continues to do so. Real GDP is expected to drop in the low single digits soon, reaching in the 1s by 2020.

    • No way

      That’s one very strange diagram, with the whole world counted more than one time.
      Central America is a part of North America. Eurasia is all of Asia (including parts of the so called Middle East which are in asia) and Europe.
      Middle East is not even some kind of defined region, the countries vary greatly depening on who you ask. It’s just partly Africa and partly Asia.

      And none of the graphs show just Asia so it’s not easy to show any trend, nor to know what parts of Asia is really included.
      Not to mention that it’s obviously wrong since for example Eurasia should be one of the graphs with highest consumption since that is all Asia and Europe combined.

      • To start a discussion, the first question I’d ask is, hey, where’d you get the data? Then I’d respond by saying here:

        http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=1&pid=1&aid=2

        I realize you probably don’t have a technical background, as many commenters on cleantechnica don’t, so I’m going to try to be helpful. Or you’re very sensitive, which may explain the anonymity. There’s a big difference between “fanboy” and engineer. Fanboys are needed to gin up enthusiasm and work wonders for a technical stuff and car sales and marketing blogs.

        The zones are well defined as far as coal, oil and gas production, consumption and proved reserves. Proved reserves are the reserves as defined post E&P. E&P is exploration and production.

        There are the regions or zones. Within those regions are countries. Countries are not counted twice. Please click on the link to see how this is presented.

        • No way

          I’m rather more sensitive. 😉 I find it annoying that educated (and of course uneducated) people don’t know basic geography which isn’t helped by made up zones and regions that don’t match the names they’re given.
          I know what the zones are and represents even though I find it stupid. And it adds on the ignorance of the average US citizen (where these made up regions are most often encountered) that in most cases don’t know basic geography.
          I do have a technical bakground. But that doesn’t help when a pet peeve of mine comes up. Not using units of international standard is another one. =)

          I do appreciate the will to educate though, the next time it might be that I or someone else didn’t understand and need it for real.

          • Maybe not everything is always the US’s fault. These regions are also used for IEA production and consumption accounting of oil, gas and coal. And they’ve been established for at least 40 years.

          • No way

            Of course not. But I do hope it will change and go to the grave along with oil, gas and coal. 🙂

        • Larmion

          I hate to say this to a fellow engineer, but you’re kinda making us look bad. First by defending the indefensible (continuous use of geographically meaningless categories based on tradition) and second, because even someone as socially inept as me finds your tone a little… strong 😉

          • Was your school accredited? There’s a lot of “engineers” out there. Like EV car sales engineering may be an engineering in some parts of the world. These are established regions for accounting production and consumption for oil, gas, and coal exploitation. It’s EIA and IEA kind of stuff. If you have a problem with how this is tallied take it up with them.

          • Larmion

            Yeah, my university is accredited. In fact, it ranks second in Europe in my field, biochemical engineering.

          • Brilliant. We can agree the data presentation is what it is and move on then? Here’s the thorn in my craw. I simply presented established data, collected and presented by EIA, that supported the post author’s presentation. That was a positive comment. Please, for the love of all things holy, just go to the link and see how the regions are defined and which countries make up those regions. It’s pretty simple and I’m sure understandable by biochemical engineers from Europe’s toppest notch school.

            The takeaway is how much more coal is consumed in Asia compared to the rest of the world. Asia’s big consumer is China followed by India. A drop of 10 to 15 percent use would equal to the use of the rest of the world. I believe China would need a land area the size of Nevada or Great Britain and Ireland of windmills to replace all that coal use.

          • Larmion

            Sure. I just don’t agree you had to get so crabby about No Way pointing out that the subdivisions used have no basis. There was no need to draw ‘I’m an engineer’ into that.

            Let’s just agree that it’s a silly but widely used division and move on.

          • No, I was being nice. The engineer v. fanboy was a bit snippy. Just a bit. Unfortunately, clean technology is being sold like smartphones, where the marketing and blogosphere is all based on fanboying to generate buzz. Have you ever visited a “tech” blog? And besides, many engineers become the biggest fanboys, usually due to their roles as being sales and marketing’s oompa loompas. There’s many examples of this going back to the origins of engineering. The whole thing got its start with military engineering. Many engineers are simply happy making the next cool gadget to vaporize as many people as fast and efficiently as possible. Then peacetime engineering or civil engineering. Then industrial engineering like mechanical, agricultural, mining, chemical and eventually biochemical. The last being necessary to engineer genetics and whatnot.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Starting about 8 years ago coal use and GDP growth were unhooked in China. China’s coal use growth decelerated while their economy continued to grow.

            Some of this appears to be due to China building more efficient (supercritical) coal plants and closing less efficient ones (more than 9,000).

            In 2012 China accounted for 50% of the world’s coal consumption. The US used 11% and India 10%. A drop of 15% in China would be a 7.5% global drop, very significant but not equal to the rest of the world.

            China has lots of open land for wind farms. What they need (and are now building) is transmission from their windiest zones to where power is most needed. Projections are that wind should surpass (dropping) coal by 2035.

          • Now that was commenting. Thanks Bob.

            It looks like the GDP versus energy consumption the world over split around 2008. The two curve’s slopes are changing, showing that a buck can be made without having to add evermore energy. China’s coal diversion seems right, but it has been so heavily dependent on coal. Meaning coal is a big chunk of the total of energy consumed, which is why it took so long. US energy consumptions is more spread out, where GDP diverted from coal long ago.

            Here’s a deep dive done by a woman who runs a kind of cool blog on this very subject. Her name is Gail Tverberg. She posts on other blogs on the subject of energy economics. No, I’m not promoting here and I don’t always agree with her. She’ll sometimes post on Energy Collective. A blog that can really get my goat.

            http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/11/15/is-it-really-possible-to-decouple-gdp-growth-from-energy-growth/

            One example from many. The graph below is from a conservative pro anything that emits stuff group. Gail’s analysis is similar to your graph and includes many countries the world over.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gail resurfaces. She (unless I’m badly mistaken) was one of the Peak Oil people.

            Let’s look at one of her claims –

            ​​” I have been looking at the relationship between world GDP and world energy use and am becoming increasingly skeptical that such a decoupling is really possible.”

            What horse poop. Has Gail never heard of efficiency? And she seems to be still hung up with energy = oil and coal.

            What happens when we move away from coal and leave behind the 60% of waste heat of coal plants? And away from petroleum to electricity for transportation and abandon the 80% of waste heat of ICEs?

            What happens as we move from inefficient lighting/heating/cooling to more efficient technology?

            A modern factory will produce far more goods with less energy than an outdated plant. And those goods will be moved to market with far less energy. The savings on energy cost will be available to create more production.

            And she takes it further –

            “*I have not attempted to discuss the impact of renewables, since to date their impact has been small. The front-ending of energy use of renewable makes their impact on energy intensity of GDP less beneficial than standard comparisons would suggest.”

            Lordy, lordy. Renewables are coming on like gangbusters and Gail chooses to ignore them?

            And what does she mean by the “front-ending of energy use”? Wind turbines repay their energy input in 3 to 8 months. Solar panels repay their energy input in less than one or two years. We have to keep pouring energy into coal plants and gasmobiles to keep them operating. Furthermore, we already are producing more electricity from wind and solar farms than we use to manufacture new wind and solar farms.

            Flashback to the glory days of Peak Oil when the main players on that site shouted Doom!!!. I got kicked off that site for suggesting that we could move to PHEVs, EVs, electrified rail, etc. and dodge civilization collapse if oil supplies tightened.

          • Man, I’ve only interacted with her on a blog a couple times. So really never went into it beyond the issue at hand, that was insurance v. energy v. climate change. She’s got a risk background. Her hobby is energy and environment. And really doesn’t have the enthusiasm you do on clean technology. She’s not an Oil and Gas dude, btw. Insurance quants, working under the business sales and marketing types, tend to look at everything as it is and what it may be given what’s happened before. Not what one hopes it will be. That has ticked off salesmen since the first sale was made on beads thousands of years ago. That’s why they were slow to jump onto climate models. Insurance, though late to the game, will drive climate action. Modeling folks know there are constraints or boundary limits to every analysis. They also can be stuck holding the bag full of stranded assets. Tech hasn’t had to pay its share for environmental and legacy costs like old industries have, i.e. Google, Tesla and Uber. Heck, Uber doesn’t even follow laws. There’s a tussle going on right now about this. Tesla et all are trying to get indemnification on autonomous vehicles.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What sort of insurance person would you be if you didn’t recognize potential changes in the works? Change means risk. Risk is the main concern of insurance number crunchers.

            The insurance industry was possibly the first industry outside of renewable energy to acknowledge climate change and what it could mean, financially.
            Gail (at least in that 2011 article) refuses to consider a world that might change. And that means that she was not watching what was happening even five years ago. Tesla had introduced the ModS, Nissan was already selling the Leaf, and GM was selling the Volt. A personal transportation option that did not use oil, or very little oil, was already on the road. Wind was already producing 2% of all US electricity and prices were dropping. CFLs were replacing incandescents and cutting our use of electricity for lighting by a huge percentage.

            It wasn’t a matter of “This could happen”. This was happening.

            Coal is dead. Oil will soon start dying. Efficiency has become a major player in how we do business.

            We’ll produce more with less energy. We’ll need less energy simply because our processes will become more efficient. And we’ll move to energy sources which create less waste heat.

          • nakedChimp

            One thing (my hobby background tells me this) .. be careful with GPD numbers.. they can be tweaked pretty easily and can mean everything.
            So if I look at this decoupling of FF use vs GPD I take it with a big bag of grained salt.

          • newnodm

            “What sort of insurance person would you be if you didn’t recognize potential changes in the works? ”

            Gail was an actuary, I think. The antonym of futurist.

          • Bob_Wallace

            (Had to Google)

            According to the Society of Actuaries –
            “An actuary is a business professional who analyzes the financial consequences of risk. Actuaries use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance and pension programs.”
            Uncertain future events. She’s letting them gobsmack her.

          • newnodm

            I also participated on the Oil Drum as a skeptic. I liked the people on that forum, even though I thought they were wrong. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get kicked.
            I do think Gail’s and others were thoughtful, concerned people acting in a pro-social manner. So why I thought they were wrong, they had my respect.
            Everyone becomes attached to their own ideas and outlook. Everyone concerned with climate change and related issues needs to truly listen to well formed contrary opinions.

    • Michael G

      Thanks for your graph. Very enlightening. The criticisms on “region” were unfounded. Proving yet again that “No good deed goes unpunished”.

  • Michael G

    The graph is impressive but without a time scale on the “x-axis” it is meaningless.

    The pie-chart needs units also or we have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Larmion

    “As can be seen below, non-coal power generation growth in 2014 has been
    primarily the result of improved hydropower conditions and hydropower
    capacity growth. Nevertheless, renewable energy solutions such as wind,
    solar, and biomass are also contributing to the overall growth of
    non-coal power.”

    In what universe is hydro non-renewable?

    More to the point, are these stats verified in some way? Chinese statistics, especially those gathered by local governments, are notoriously unreliable. They are often… tweaked a little in order to fit the priorities of central government (extremely high economic growth in the last decade, environmental performance today).

    • Marion Meads

      Imagination is lacking for some of us. Hydro in some situations are in fact non-renewable. Number 1 is that the dams can suffer siltation, especially if the surrounding wateshed become deforested due to illegal logging. Hydropower can work for a few decades, but once it is silted out, it is done, so how can that be renewable?

      Number 2 is climate change. The long term climate pattern is changing. When the monsoonal rains no longer dump water into the watershed, how can you say that it is renewable?

      And it is happening in this very planet, in many different parts of the world.

      • Shane 2

        ***The long term climate pattern is changing. When the monsoonal rains no longer dump water into the watershed***
        Some areas may end up with less water and some areas more. Some areas may end up with less wind and some areas more. Are you going to say wind is not renewable?

        • newnodm

          Exactly. Also increased temps increase both total rainfall and wind.

        • LS

          Most of the rivers In china and India are glacial, once the glaciers melt… much of the water is done for. Just like the rivers that have dried in Central Asia and some in India.

          • Larmion

            Not per se. Some rainfall will fall in liquid form rather than as snow. That won’t reduce the amount of water available for hydropower, it will just mean it arrives as it falls rather than gradually.

            That would be problematic for run-of-the river schemes, but afaik all major hydropower plants in China either have their own reservoir or have their inflow regulated by another reservoir dam upstream.

          • Kyle Field

            Check out the film “DamNation”. Goes into quite a bit of detail on dams, how they age, siltation etc. It’s a very interesting case study on how damaging dams are which stands in stark contrast with their economic/green energy benefits.

            More to come on this… 🙂

          • Aku Ankka

            Yes, but there is difference between “not renewable” and “has adverse ecological effects”. Every electricity generation method has some kind of adverse effects in some locales, it’s just the magnitude and relevancy that matters.
            So pointing out negative effects of hydro-plants is fine, but claiming it is not renewable does not make sense.

            But as to the original comment, I suspect the intent was to claim that the boost is not sustainable, i.e. mostly was one-off from good year wrt. rain, and that the rate of building up new capacity will be soon limited by availability of sites for new hydro plants.
            This is true, and perhaps it was just sub-optimal wording.

          • Larmion

            Why would one check out a documentary for information when there are things like peer reviewed research and IPCC reports?

          • LS

            You are assuming that the rate of rainfall will always exceed the consumption and the reservoir will last in perpetuity, which isn’t the case. Demand for water will only increase over time no amount of rainfall can satiate that simply because rainfall isn’t guaranteed and secondly it does not fall everywhere. Even a 25% decrease due to glacial water reduction will be problematic.

          • Larmion

            That is an assumption that is valid for the area under discussion (Southern China), at least according to most models.

            Climate change will influence hydropower at a local level, just as it will influence wind and most other sources of energy. But on a global level, there is no evidence for a major change in hydroelectric output.

          • LS

            That is a worst assumption that something is a constant and will last in perpetuity.

          • Larmion

            No, that’s not what’s happening here. Hydrological models simulate the effect of expected changes due to climate change, changing land use and other factors on the spatio-temporal distribution of rainfall (when and where does it fall).

            Those models show limited change for southern China and none for the world as a whole. Actually, very few places will see a change in the absolute amount of water available to them (but quite a few will see changes in when it falls during the year).

            Not everything changes. You shouldn’t assume it will unless you have a good reason to.

          • Aku Ankka

            I think this is a post-facto rationalization. While it is possible that individual plants may, over longer periods, get depleted, considering the whole class to be non-renewable is just silly.
            Similar to declaring geothermal energy non-renewable because over very long time periods it actually does not recharge (since it’s tapping into earth core’s heat, generated from radioactive decay, and eventually will indeed run out, over billions of years).

          • LS

            Maybe for you concept of glacial river is a post-facto rationalization but for the countries that depend heavily on these whether these rivers originate from alps or himalayas it is a stark reality today and if you think that comparing melting of glaciers to earth’s geothermal energy is preposterous since the later would take billions of years v/s all glaciers reducing drastically by 2050.

      • Larmion

        Saltation is a design and maintenance issue. Just like wind energy is no less renewable because the turbines need replacement and maintenance, hydropower is no less renewable because it needs watershed management and perhaps dredging.

        Climate change is not reducing the availability of water, just shifting it around in place and time.

      • Dag Johansen

        Nothing is completely renewable. The sun will eventually burn out and stop solar PV and wind. (Actually worse, it will swallow up the Earth eventually.) But it is all a matter of time.

        With hydropower, the problem is silt which builds up and eventually messes up the damn. Or the lack of rain as you point out.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Just a couple years back hydro was so much larger than other non-hydro renewables that it overshadowed wind, solar, etc. It became common to talk about non-hydro renewables.

      I suspect some people have taken that an (inappropriate) step too far and shortened it up by dropping the non-hydro modifier.

      • Larmion

        I know it has entered common parlance, but it’s not a mistake I’d expect in an article on energy…

      • Aku Ankka

        It could also be that the intent was to suggest that growth in this segment is not sustainable, and that increase is more a one-off or short term trend. Combination of above-average year for producing electricity by hydro (averages out over time), and limited availability for constructing new capacity.

        Still, not a good choice of words.

        • CR

          Yeah, it probably is sort of a one-off, but not all the large projects are yet completed, so it should affect some of the next few years’ growth as well. (The largest two are scheduled to go online 2018-2020.)

          There’s also a number of nuclear projects meant to complete in the next 1-3 years, much more than the past few, so coal use seems pretty likely to keep dropping regardless.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We’ve got more nuclear plants on the road to closure than we are building. Expect the overall contribution from nuclear to drop.

          • CR

            If by “we” you mean China, which is being discussed here, I’d like to see sources. The schedules I’ve seen show very much the opposite.

            Nations like the US and Germany *are* closing more nuclear power than building, so they will need renewables to cover that too.

          • Bob_Wallace

            By “we” I mean the planet.

            Here’s some numbers I dug out a year or so ago on nuclear plants likely to close. It may need updating…

            Armenia 1 in 2026

            Belgium 2 by 2015 and 5 more by 2025.

            Canada 4 by 2015, 10 by 2025 and 5 more by 2040.

            Finland 3 by 2040

            Germany 9 by 2025

            Hungry 2 by 2025 and 2 more by 2040

            Mexico 2 by 2040

            Netherlands 1 by 2025

            Pakistan 1 by 2025 and 1 by 2040

            Russia 1 by 2015, 23 by 2025 and 4 more by 2040

            Slovakia 2 by 2025

            South Africa 2 by 2025

            South Korea 1 by 2025 and 1 more by 2040

            Spain has 7 reactors whose license runs out before 2025. No decision to close or refurbish has been made

            Sweden 2 by 2025 and 5 more by 2040

            Switzerland 4 by 2025 and 2 more by 2040

            The Philippines is converting 1 reactor to natural gas.

            Ukraine 2 by 2015, 10 more by 2025 and 3 more by 2040

            United Kingdom 1 by 2015, 6 more by 2025, and 2 more by 2040

            United States – interesting the World Nuclear Association fails to talk about planned US closures.

            The total for reactors scheduled to close by the end of 2025 according to the World Nuclear Association is 89.

            http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Facts-and-Figures/World-Nuclear-Power-Reactors-and-Uranium-Requirements/

            There are seven Spanish reactors whose license will have expired but no close/refurbish decision has yet been made.

            We have one US reactor (Oyster Creek) scheduled to close in 2019. About 25% of the US reactor fleet (roughly) is in serious financial difficulty. Exelon has 6 reactors which have been losing money for more than five years. Diablo Canyon (California) is likely come under intense pressure to close as the rest of the coal is removed from Ca grids and the reactor’s power can be replaced with renewables. The US could lose 25 reactors over the next 10 years.

            The US also has at least 35 reactors that are 40 years old or older with several only short years behind. The decision will have to be made whether to spend the money to refurbish or close. To the extent the number that overlap with those reactors already losing money the decision will likely be to close.

            The World Nuclear Association states that there are 70 reactors currently under construction.

            http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/current-and-future-generation/plans-for-new-reactors-worldwide/

            As far as China goes, it appears that China expects renewables to expand faster and further than nuclear.

            Wind has already surpassed nuclear in terms of electricity produced. Solar should pass nuclear shortly after 2020.

          • CR

            Globally, you are absolutely right, there are more reactors scheduled to close than go online. It may not be quite as bad as your numbers indicate, since the new reactors will be larger on average and some scheduled closedowns may instead be retooled… but then again many new plants’ schedule may also slip.

            In China, however, the trend is up like your graph shows, helping reduce coal use faster than with wind/solar alone… which is all I was saying.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Nuclear is expected to increase in China, but at a very low rate. Look at the slope of the red line.

            I suspect that with storage now dropping rapidly in price China may end their nuclear construction program within the next ten years. They can get more electricity for their renminbi and cut pollution/CO2 faster with wind and solar.

            It would make sense to leave (safe) reactors in operation until the end of their engineered life. That means less new generation would need to be used to cover their loss.

          • CR

            Low rate? Yes, lower than wind, but this is China we are talking about. The past ten years’ growth is large enough that built elsewhere it could have gotten coal out of the UK electricity grid. That’s significant.

            Hopefully once current reactors start to near the end of their lifecycle, fossil fuels have been pushed out of the grid and there’s ample supply of PV cells and wind turbines to use in replacing them.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Reactors take years to build. I think China is now averaging over five years to complete construction. Add in a year or two for planning and it’s clear that any new Chinese nuclear coming on line this year and for a few more years was put in the pipes before the price of wind and solar plummeted.

            Look how fast wind has caught up and passed nuclear. And that’s electricity generated, not nameplate capacity.

          • Freyr Gunnar

            Except, because of their intermittency, wind/solar can’t replace nuclear or fossil fuel-based power plants.

            At best, they can generate a minor part of the electricity we need.

            It’s either nuclear or fossil fuel. And since fossil fuel is making this planet inhabitable…

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, Freyr. Someone has badly misinformed you.

            Over on the right hand side of the page you’ll find “Is 100% Renewable Energy Possible”. Click on it and do some reading.

            The answer to the intermittency of wind and solar is twofold. Storage (pump-up hydro, batteries, etc.) and dispatchable generation (hydro, biofuels, etc.).

            A combination of wind, solar, other renewables and storage is much cheaper than nuclear. Nuclear has been priced out of the game.

          • CR

            The baseload thing is mostly a myth. There’s two kinds of generation: dispatchable and non-dispatchable. Wind/solar alone can replace any other non-dispatchable generation, like coal (which is usually too slow to ramp up) or nuclear (which is too expensive to run at low CF).

            Natural gas is the only fossil fuel that really has an advantage, but hydro and storage should make up for it. I don’t think NG will completely disappear for a long time, since it makes for an economical backup. We can always run the plants on syngas or biogas instead.

        • Bob_Wallace

          In the US we have a number of existing dams that can be converted to power production. And we have extensive ‘run of the river’ potential. (I’m willing to assume that this is true in much of the rest of the world.)

          10 GW could be added by converting existing dams.

          http://www.hydro.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Converting4.pdf

          Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has identified more than 65 gigawatts of untapped hydropower potential in US rivers and streams. Run or the river hydro.

          http://nhaap.ornl.gov/nsd

          Countries that rely on glacier/snow melt to feed their rivers during the non-rainy season realize that less of their water supply will be supplied by melt. New storage dams will be built to capture the faster runoff produced by rain rather than snow. India has been building new storage for some time.

    • Omega Centauri

      Whether hydro actually reduces net greenhous emissions is site dependent. Drowned vegetation can emit methane as it decays, so some hydro projects actually make things worse.

      • Larmion

        a) Renewable =/= GHG-free. Any source of energy that depends on a resource that cannot realistically be depleted is renewable, regardless of any environmental impact.

        b) Apart from a few unique cases (very shallow, large reservoirs in a hot climate that flooded dense, uncleared vegetation), methane emissions are trivial. Most new dams are built on pre-cleared land, and the issue is nonexistant in cool climates (where most hydro is) anyway.

        The last IPCC report ranked energy sources by carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. Guess what? Hydro had the lowest GHG impact over its life cycle. Lower than solar, lower than geothermal, lower than wind.

        http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/IPCC_SRREN_Annex_II.pdf (page 982 table A.II.4).

        • vensonata

          Larmion, thanks for that. It is tremendously important to clear up these urban legends. I do notice that wooden ships sunken for centuries are preserved by immersion in water.

          • Kyle Field

            Wood does preserve surprisingly well under water in many cases. I was blown away by how much methane is released from decaying vegetation that was flooded over by dams. From the FAQs on the DamNation film site “Based on research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, over the last 20 years, the warming impact of annual large dam methane emissions is equivalent to 7.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. “

          • Aku Ankka

            Even if the impact was non-trivial, it is a one-time occurrence. Underwater vegetation only decomposes once. Hydro plants themselves are long-term, with lifespans being multiples of any other mode of generation. Niagara plant, for example, is sort of like museum for electrical gear, having been commissioned so early, yet being still in operation and doing so for foreseeable future.

            I think that while it is good to present the downsides of hydro plant projects, it is important to keep things in perspective. Compared to alternatives, these electricity sources are very, very valuable: not just for efficient, emission-free generation, but also as the biggest, lowest-cost (over long time) energy storage systems in existence. Without hydro power integration of wind, solar is much more challenging, costly. With some amount of hydro capacity integration is much easier.

          • Larmion

            After the original vegetation clears, there can still be some methane emissions stemming from the decomposition of organic matter entering the lake in the sediment layers at the lake bottom (think fallen leafs from shoreline trees or dying algae).

            That’s of course a very limited amount of methane, and zero in the case of cool, oxygen rich waters where respiration will deal with any organic matter before it can reach the anaerobic layers.

          • Omega Centauri

            I would agree, that once built and filled, its foolish to tear down power dams because of environmental concerns. The damage was already done. Finding new sites because increasingly difficult, no only because the good ones, but also because human settlements and infrastructure (which would be lost under large hydro reservoirs) is being built almost everywhere.

          • Larmion

            Wait. The same IPCC that claims the GHG emissions from hydropower are the lowest out of any electricity source based on a several pages worth of references to peer-reviewed papers? See above.

      • SeeRexx

        False, after ten years only, the co2 balance is in equilibrium on the same level than a natural lake.

    • Oscar Martín

      Of course hydro is renewable. But it is a shame to always say hydro, and non-hydro renewable,. So sometimes someone could said only renewable instead of non-hydro renewable.
      The distinction of renewable is historic. Hydro is very old and has been cheap from the first while the other renewable has only become economic on the end of the XX century to now.

      • jeffhre

        As wind, solar, bio and geo pass hydro as a group, ie are no longer seen as tiny, the non hydro moniker will recede.

    • JamesWimberley

      Chinese coal producers keep their own records. They must be hurting, badly, and complaining to the government.

      It’s funny the way everybody believes Chinese government statistics when they fit the received narrative of breakneck growth, and begin to question them when they no longer match.

      Coal is about the easiest thing to measure in the economy. It is physical stuff you can weigh – most problems in economic statistics are about valuation and quality shifts (how can you compare an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 3?), which don’t apply here. There is only limited variation in the product – much less tha steel, say. It has to be transported by rail, which statisticians can also check.

      Incidentally, how do sceptics imagine the coal-miners cheat? They are selling millions of tonnes off the books, and getting it shipped by the state railways? To what profitable customers, in a glut? This sort of thing can get you shot in China, and coal barons are no longer feted (link).

      The one doubt I have is whether the decline is actually accelerating, since consumption for power generation is affected by the large temporary increase in hydropower output from the weather. Hydro projects are very lumpy; perhaps a major new dam or two was started up, creating a one-off jump.

      Splendid news anyway. I double down on my prediction that China will try to surprise the world, and wrong-foot the USA, by announcing a carbon emissions cap for Paris much lower than the one they promised Obama. The USA will not be able to match this.

      • Calamity_Jean

        “I double down on my prediction that China will try to surprise the world, and wrong-foot the USA, by announcing a carbon emissions cap for Paris much lower than the one they promised Obama. The USA will not be able to match this.”

        I agree with you. The Chinese are sick and tired of being the world’s climate change villain, and now that they’ve worked out the expensive end of the learning curve for making PV panels, they are planning to kick the world’s collective behind with cheap solar and wind power, and cover themselves with glory while they do it.

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