Satellite intelligence shows China in a vast rollout of coal-fired power stations

CoalSwarmHuaneng Daba-4 power station. Satellite imagery

  • Environment campaigners say satellite imagery shows a massive 259 gigawatts of new coal-fired power station capacity is under development in China.
  • CoalSwarm says hundreds of coal-fired powered stations are under construction despite attempts by the central government to rein in expansion.
  • The surge in high-emissions power generation would be wildly out of line with the Paris climate agreement.

China is building coal-fire power stations, many of them previously thought to have been cancelled by order of the central government, at a far greater rate than previously estimated, according to analysis of satellite imagery and official documents.

A study by green campaigners CoalSwarm shows 259 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity under development in China.

This is almost equivalent to the total installed coal power capacity in the U.S. of 266 GW.

This would mean a 25% increase in China’s current 993 GW of coal power capacity to 1252, pushing well past the stated national 1100 GW cap for coal-fired power.

The build-up in China, which already has half of the world’s coal power capacity, has implications for coal supplying countries such as Australia and will mean that China is unlikely to be able to meet Paris climate goals.

According to the International Energy Agency, a 50% chance of limiting average future temperature increases to 1.75C requires that China to close all coal plants without carbon capture and storage by 2045.

But a phase-out requires aggressive retirement of existing coal plants, and not the building new ones.

CoalSwarm says guaranteed power tariffs, easy access to cheap credit, and a permit spree by provincial authorities have led to a rapid build-up of coal power capacity in China, far exceeding the country’s needs.

The green campaigners used the Global Coal Plant Tracker, an online database that identifies, maps, describes, and categorises every known coal-fired generating unit in China, to determine that work is progressing, and not slowing, on the construction of hundreds of coal-fired power stations, despite attempts by the central government to put the brakes on new work.

Below is a sample of the type of facility under construction, referenced in the CoalSwarm report and published at Planet Labs. The slider allows you to compare the completed cooling tower as pictured in January this year against the same site in July 2017.