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Coal Use Falling in China as It Shifts to Renewables

The use of coal by Chinese power plants fell by as much as 3.5% last year and looks likely to continue falling. Observers say the government there wants to clean its nortoriously dirty air. Photo by Tobias Brox/Wikimedia.
The use of coal by Chinese power plants fell by as much as 3.5% last year and looks likely to continue falling. Observers say the government there wants to clean its nortoriously dirty air. Photo by Tobias Brox/Wikimedia.
August 24, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – China's use of coal fell last year and looks likely to keep falling.

The U.S. coal lobby argues any reduction in American carbon pollution will be swallowed up by more CO2 from China.

But after decades of explosive growth, Chinese coal use fell by as much as 3.5 percent last year.

Some of that is due to a slowing economy, but Nicole Ghio, a representative with the Sierra Club's international climate and energy program, says the government there has declared it is shifting away from coal.

She says international observers are stunned by how quickly and totally China is putting that change in place.

"The important thing to understand is that it's real,” Ghio states. “We've already seen the use of coal in China drop in 2014, which is huge. No one could have even imagined that happening."

Ghio says the Chinese government has declared a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. She says China is closing some existing plants, and not running many of the others full time.

She says the Chinese government is commanding that the economy put its full weight behind renewable energy, especially solar.

She says in part that's because thousands of people die there every day because of the country's notoriously bad air pollution, and because the government sees solar as the next big growth industry.

"The Chinese investments in solar are not window dressing,” she points out. “It is because they believe that this is where the future of energy is, and they are going all-in on renewables."

Ghio says India – the next largest developing country – also is moving rapidly to renewables. She stresses that's being driven by the fact that small, local wind and solar projects typically are cheaper than extending the main electric grid.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV