The development of coal-fired power plants fell significantly for the second year in a row in 2017, with new construction down by 73% between 2015 and 2017, thanks in large part to tighter restrictions in China and a lack of private financing in India.
In the fourth annual survey of the global coal plant pipeline — Boom and Bust 2018: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline — Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Coal Swarm found that major declines in development and construction in both China and India led to a 28% year-over-year decline in newly completed coal plants — which was 41% over the past two years — and a 29% year-over-year decline in construction starts — out to a 73% decline over the past two years — and finally a 22% drop in plants in the permitting and planning stage — equaling a 59% drop over the past two years. The report of 2017 coal activities only further strengthens the importance of the 2016 report which, at the time, was thought by many to possibly be an anomaly. This is no anomaly, however, but sign of a much larger trend that speaks dire warnings to the coal industry.
“The decline was due primarily to central government restrictions in China and declining financial and policy support in India, although capacity under development in the rest of the world also declined,” the authors of the report concluded. All in all, global coal retirements in 2017 exceeded a mammoth 25 gigawatts (GW) and over the past three years a total of 97 GW was retired — led by the United States with 45 GW, China with 16 GW, and the UK with 8 GW as part of its larger effort to retire coal entirely.
Maybe most importantly, based on the two decades long trend of coal retirements, the authors of the report predict that the global fleet of coal-fired power plants will begin to decline in 2022.
“From a climate and health perspective, the trend toward a declining coal power fleet is encouraging, but not happening fast enough,” said Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm. “Fortunately, mass production is cutting solar and wind costs much faster than expected, and both financial markets and power planners worldwide are taking notice.”
“It’s no surprise that the use of coal is declining worldwide,” added Neha Mathew-Shah, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign. “This has been an accelerating trend over the past few years, and as the cost of clean energy solutions like wind and solar continue to outpace outdated fossil fuels, it’s only a matter of time before coal is a thing of the past.”
But while it may be simply “a matter of time”, the authors of the report are quick to note that “the current pace of progress must be accelerated” with the need to cancel coal power projects already under development and hasten the retirement of the ageing coal fleets across Europe and the United States.
“Falling coal-fired power plant construction and accelerating retirements are excellent news for public health – pollution from coal-fired power plants is responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year globally,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner at Greenpeace. “Despite slowdown in construction, overcapacity situation continued to worsen especially in China, India and Indonesia, as new plants continue to come online.”