Energy Quote of the Day: On China’s Falling Coal Use

on May 15, 2015 at 3:00 PM
A coal fired power plant in Beijing, November 2014. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A coal fired power plant in Beijing, November 2014. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

What’s going on with coal in China? Already the world’s largest consumer of the stuff, China has been expected to continue on an upward trajectory in coal use. But last year the trend line turned down – and it appears to be continuing in that direction.

The figures suggest the decline in China’s coal use is accelerating after data for last year showed China’s coal use fell for the first time this century. An analysis of the data by Greenpeace/Energydesk China suggests coal consumption in the world’s largest economy fell by almost 8% and CO2 emissions by around 5% in the first four months of the year, compared with the same period in 2014. – Greenpeace Energydesk China

The fall in coal use is partly due to slowing economic growth – particularly in the industrial sector, where coal use is heavy. Cement production, for instance, is off 4.8 percent in the first four months of this year.

Solar and wind are growing energy contributors in China, but a bigger factor in cutting into coal use recently has been hydropower. China is a huge hydro user, with more installed capacity than the next three countries – Brazil, the U.S. and Canada – combined, according to the International Hydropower Association. Hydro accounts for nearly a quarter of China’s electricity consumption, and in the first four months of this year it’s up 15.3 percent.

So sustaining these trends will be challenging, and indeed the International Energy Agency in its coal market report looking ahead to 2019, said that  “under normal macroeconomic circumstances, Chinese coal consumption will not peak during the five-year outlook period.”

One other note: The fall in carbon emissions — “roughly the same amount as the total carbon emissions of the United Kingdom over the same period,” Greenpeace/Energydesk China said — isn’t based on actual sampling, but on a formula that takes into account different energy inputs. It’s a standard method of analyzing country emissions. Global emissions are measured more precisely with air sampling, and in March, the monthly global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since record keeping began, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.