Global Coal Plant Overbuilding Could Cost $981 Billion

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

“The world has too many coal-fired power plants, yet the power industry continues to build more,” and could cost up to $981 billion.

This is the conclusion from the second annual report published by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and CoalSwarm, investigating the global coal plant pipeline. The report, Boom and Bust 2016: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline (PDF), was published this week, and concluded that nearly $1 trillion could be wasted on overbuilding coal plants that, more and more, are only going to sit idle.

Reports have repeatedly shown that, in numerous countries around the world, coal use is declining. China’s coal use, which for many years was heralded as a global problem, has been falling steadily for two years now. China’s coal use dropped in 2014 by 1.28%, according to numbers published by the China Coal Resource, were seen to continue falling in early 2015, and earlier this month were shown to have fallen again, by 3.7%. Whereas in the US, another big coal user, coal production fell to its lowest levels since 1986 in 2015, dropping 10%.

coal plantsThe new report published this week by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and CoalSwarm, found that, globally, 338 GW of new coal capacity is currently under construction, and another 1,086 GW is in various stages of planning — that’s the equivalent of 1,500 coal plants. And if all of these plants are completed, the capital outlay for their construction will have amounted to $981 billion — that’s nearly $1 trillion!

China is making steps, and the report’s authors make note of this, highlighting the recent news that saw the government begin to curb investment in new coal plants. Specifically, the report found that the reported suspension of new permits and new construction in half of China’s provinces could affect 60% of the 460 new coal-fired power plants which had been permitted or are in the permitting process.

“As coal-fired power plants are rapidly becoming uncompetitive, and concerns about their massive health impacts grow, the coal industry is making a last-ditch push,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner on Coal and Air Pollution at Greenpeace. “China alone is housing the largest power market investment bubble the world has ever seen. Even after announcing suspension of new permits in 13 provinces, the country could still bring over 500 new coal-fired power plant units online while power generation from coal is falling precipitously on clean energy growth and slower power demand.”

“The era of Big Coal is clearly coming to an end, and it’s long past time to move beyond dangerous, outdated, and polluting energy sources toward an economy powered by clean, renewable sources of energy like solar and wind,” said Nicole Ghio, senior campaigner for the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy campaign. “Coal use keeps falling off a cliff and plants are sitting idle, yet more money is being wasted on misguided attempts at locking in this dirty, dangerous fuel. The hundreds of billions being thrown at coal could instead go toward the booming clean energy sector, helping more than a billion people get access to the clean, reliable electricity that fossil fuels have failed to deliver.”

Specifically, the report found that the $981 billion is more than one-and-a-half times the funds necessary to end energy poverty for the 1.2 billion people currently living without reliable electricity access, according to the International Energy Agency.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Joshua S Hill

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 (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

Joshua S Hill has 4403 posts and counting. See all posts by Joshua S Hill