Energy

Chinese Coal Power Dwarfs Wind And Solar, Undermining Obama’s Global Warming Plans

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

A chart posted Tuesday shows just how little wind and solar energy China will use despite its pledge to President Barack Obama to peak its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the next 14 years.

A UK-based global warming researcher posted the chart showing China plans to triple wind power capacity and greatly expand solar power by 2030 to comply with the pledge. This amount of new energy, however, pales in comparison to the amount of electricity the country plans to get from coal. Of the 2,400 coal-fired power plants under construction or being planned around the world, 1,171 will be built in China. This rapid growth of coal power overseas means that, mathematically, Chinese CO2 emissions are unlikely to stop rising.

China has pledged since 2014 to stop its CO2 emissions from rising by 2030 and then to get the emissions to gradually fall. The country reiterated that promise last June. China’s pledge made it much easier for Obama to secure the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change in Paris last December. Despite the pledge, China continues to build numerous new coal power plants, which would make their promise effectively impossible to keep.

Consumption of coal in China has already grown by a factor of three from 2000 to 2013. The country consumes approximately half of all coal used worldwide and gets roughly 66 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The chart was compiled by Robert Wilson, an ecosystem and climate change researcher at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and is based on data from the 2015 BP Statistical Review Of World Energy. Wilson has a long research history studying the potential impacts of global warming.

Chinese wind and solar growth is slow relative to coal because the Chinese government has already stopped approving new wind power projects in the country’s windiest regions, according to a March statement by China’s National Energy Administration. These regions previously installed nearly 71 gigawatts of wind turbines, more than the rest of China combined. A single gigawatt of electricity is enough to power 700,000 homes. Government statistics show that 33.9 billion kilowatt-hours of wind power, or about 15 percent of all Chinese wind power, was wasted in 2015 alone.

Beijing has ordered wind and solar operators to stop expanding four times in the last five years because unreliable and intermittent power was damaging the country’s power grid and costing the government enormous amounts of money. The best areas for wind turbines and solar panels in China are far away from the coastal provinces where most of its population lives, and building the infrastructure to transmit the electricity over long distances is enormously expensive and could cost many times the price of generating the power.

China spent more than $80 billion building new green energy in 2014 alone, while the US spent a “mere” $34 billion. Despite the freeze on new wind-farms, the Chinese government still plans to get 15 percent of the country’s electricity from green energy by 2020.

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