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While China’s coal consumption growth has slowed down, and fell in 2014, coal-fired power generating capacity continues to grow rapidly.
If there is one factoid that every media consumer knows about energy in China, it must be that the country is “building one coal power plant per week”. At the same time, power generation from coal fell by approximately 1.6% in 2014, due to record increases in power generation from hydropower, wind, solar, nuclear and gas, along with slower power consumption growth. In fact, coal-fired capacity growth has outstripped coal-fired generation growth since 2011, leading to dramatically reduced capacity utilization and financial pain to power plant operators. The Obama – Xi deal on peaking China’s CO2 emissions before 2030 has grabbed the headlines in English-speaking media, leaving many observers with the impression that China is planning to slack for another 15 years before starting to pull its weight in cutting CO2.
However, real action is in the implementation of China’s energy targets for 2020 and the air pollution action plans for 2017.
Hitting the 15% target will require raising share of renewable energy and nuclear power in power generation from 22% in 2013 to 33-35% in 2020. Gas-fired power generation is also forecast by the IEA to grow to around 5% of total power generation, implying that the share of coal will shrink to about 60% in 2020, from 72% in 2013.
This will require almost doubling non-fossil power generation from 2014 to 2020, meaning that, on average, non-fossil power generation will have increased as much as it did in 2014, every year until 2020. As in so many other respects, the radical changes in 2014 were not a one-off anomaly, but the “new normal”. As a result of booming non-fossil power generation, even assuming GDP growth of 7% per year until 2020, growth in coal-fired power generation will be limited to around 1.5% per year on average, slowing down towards 2020 as non-fossil generation additions are ramped up. Together with a targeted 0.7% per year reduction in coal use per unit of power generated, this means that coal use growth in the power sector will average less than 1% and will stabilize before 2020. To grasp why coal-fired power plants can still get built in the face of a worsening overcapacity problem, it is necessary to understand the basics of China’s economic model.
The country’s growth miracle has been based on an economic system designed to enable extremely high levels of investment spending, particularly by state-owned companies and local governments. These actors have a very liberal access to near-zero interest loans from state-owned banks, and state-owned companies are generally not required to pay dividends to the state, enabling (or forcing) them to re-invest their profits. This model served China well for decades, enabling the growth miracle and lifting hundreds of millions from poverty. Recently published research estimated that 67 trillion yuan ($11 trillion) has been spent on projects that generated no or almost no economic output – ghost cities being the most famous example.
In this context, it is not too hard to see how investment in coal-fired power plants can speed way ahead of demand growth.
A new coal-fired power plant will still generate power and revenue even if there is overcapacity, as the lower capacity utilization gets spread across the entire coal power fleet and across all power plant operators.
The conventional assumption in power business is that once a coal-fired power plant or other capital-intensive generating asset gets built, it will run pretty much at full steam for 40 years or more.
Therefore, continued investment in coal-fired power plants does not mean locking in more coal-burning.
Hence, investment in coal-fired power plants needs to be rapidly scaled back by restricting approvals and finance.
At the moment rooftop solar is providing almost 20% of total electricity use in South Australia and most of that capacity was installed in the last four years. Is it possible that China is leveraging its prosperity to deliver more energy to its community? Last week we covered the then-upcoming solar eclipse, as well as European concerns that the event might cause catastrophic blackouts or failures across Europe. Understanding power generationThere are a few things to understand about how we generate electricity in order to grasp why navigating the solar eclipse was potentially risky. As the work day starts, demand for conventional power starts dropping, bottoming-out between 12 and 6 PM.
Having spent a large percentage of my life living in Europe (I grew up there and my family is there), I can say that many people there will say the same thing about themselves compared to various other countries, depending on the subject.
Often people identify with their own group (country, city, favorite football squad, etc.) either too favorably or too unfavorably.
As a result, the US is now vastly more expensive than Europe for a variety of common procedures, while European outcomes have improved.
Even more interesting is that at some levels Europe actually has tighter integration than US states have. It would be difficult to argue that interconnecting our current interconnections would increase stability as they are currently divided to prevent a castrophic failure in one interconnection from affecting the entire country. I also find it interesting that you earlier claimed the US grid wouldn’t be able to handle a solar eclipse.
I have plenty of experience with the medical system in Europe, most of which is in Italy in particular. As for how they pay for it, my friends and relatives in Europe (most of whom make even less than I do) most pay at least 40% of their incomes in total tax burden. So you can think the medical system or the tax system or the infrastructure there is better than what we have here (and on infrastructure I agree with you, though they still have to pay handsomely for it), but I’ve got hundreds of people who would all argue the opposite. I have many friends in Europe due to my international-oriented work, and my parents having Dutch heritage. But some constants remain, such as my social status and the relative amount I make when I’m living in both places.

I’m absolutely positive that many terrible things have been done in the US system and many wonderful things have been done in the European. Yeah, but not very good at digging their butts out of wars… WW1, WW2, Cold War, Upcoming WW3.
Germany gets around 26 per cent of its power from variable solar and wind, and already has some smart systems in place. Non-Renewable EnergyNon-renuable energy power stations use their fuel (Coal, Oil, Gas, Uranium) to heat water. World hydroelectric power generation has risen steadily by an average 3 percent annually over the past four decades. Four countries dominate the hydropower landscape: China, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. Much of the world’s recent growth came from China, where hydropower generation more than tripled from 220 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000 to 720 billion in 2010. Brazil, the second-largest producer of hydropower worldwide, gets 86 percent of its electricity from water resources. Approximately 62 percent of Canada’s electricity is generated from its 475 hydroelectric plants. Because most large dams in the United States were built before 1980, the country’s hydropower capacity has remained relatively stable in recent decades. Among the world’s largest producers, Norway gets the greatest share of its electricity from hydropower: a full 95 percent. While conventional hydropower will continue to grow as dams are completed in China, Brazil and a scattering of other countries, including Ethiopia, Malaysia, and Turkey, there exists enormous potential for non-conventional hydroelectricity generation from tidal and wave projects, as well as from small in-stream projects that will not require new dams. For additional data on the world’s energy resources, visit Earth Policy Institute’s Data Center and see the Supporting Data from World on the Edge by Lester R.
Earth Policy Institute Earth Policy Institute is dedicated to planning a sustainable future and providing a roadmap of how to get from here to there. Unfortunately, hydro has become just another political football, at least up here in the NW. What’s really frustrating is that our energy rates are higher than they need to be because of this too. Go Green, Go Solar!Going solar is one of the best ways you can cut your footprint and your bills at the same time.
Sustainablog works in cooperation with the Important Media network of blogs working to make the world a better, greener place. All posts on sustainablog are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. This apparent contradiction has led some observers to conclude that China’s coal consumption growth is bound to resume. Instead the continued buildup of coal-fired power plants represents an investment bubble that will burst as overcapacity becomes too large to ignore.
The headline making the rounds in China is that capacity utilization, at 54%, was at its lowest level since the reforms of 1978 (which is when statistics began to be made available). For the power sector, the most significant target is the objective for non-fossil energy to make up 15% of all energy consumed in China. If capacity utilization is to return to financially sustainable levels, there is room for little more capacity to be added until 2020.
As a result, investment spending now amounts to over 4 trillion USD per year, making up a staggering 50% of China’s GDP, higher than any other major economy in history, and compared to around 20% in developed economies.
However, finding profitable and sensible investment projects worth trillions of dollars every year is bound to become harder and harder as the investment boom goes on.
Even if there is overcapacity at the moment, demand growth will raise utilization and the existing capacity will crowd out future investment. The government is not going to scrap the internationally pledged 15% non-fossil energy target for 2020 because of excess coal-fired capacity.
It does, however, mean massive economic waste, and a missed opportunity to channel the investment spending into renewable energy, enabling even faster growth. The first step has already been taken with China banning new coal power plants in its three key economic regions, home to one third of currently operating coal-fired capacity. Very, very little electricity generated in a modern power grid is stored for any length of time.
These hours are where electrical plants typically earn most of their revenue, thanks in part to the need for less-efficient conventional plants to cycle on and provide electricity through the heat of the day. European countries brought their own costs down, but nationalized medicine gives governments the ability to negotiate on single-payer arrangements for drug costs and payments. In many cases, an operation that costs only a few thousand dollars in Europe is now $20,000+ in America unless you have insurance. Our grid would have no issue with a solar eclipse because we don’t have huge percentages of generating capacity in the form of PV panels. Their biggest challenge is rapid fluctuation in supply – just what the eclipse caused when it partly blotted out sunlight, then restored it three times faster than happens when the sun rises and sets.
In 2011, at 3,500 billion kilowatt-hours, hydroelectricity accounted for roughly 16 percent of global electricity generation, almost all produced by the world’s 45,000-plus large dams. In 2011, despite a drop in generation due to drought, hydropower accounted for 15 percent of China’s total electricity generation.

It is home to an estimated 450 dams, including the Itaipu Dam, which generates more electricity than any other hydropower facility in the world—over 92 billion kilowatt-hours per year. The country’s enormous hydropower capacity allows for electricity export; Canada sells some 50 billion kilowatt-hours to the United States every year—enough to power more than 4 million American homes.
The country’s highest capacity dam—the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington State—was completed in 1942. Other countries that get the bulk of their electricity from river power include Paraguay (100 percent), Ethiopia (88 percent), and Venezuela (68 percent).
France’s La Rance Tidal Barrage, with a 240-megawatt maximum capacity, was the first large tidal power plant. Firms in France, Scotland, and Sweden, among other countries, are working to capture this emerging market.
Check out the what solar panels cost at your house, or head over to Cost of Solar to get your free report on how much solar could save you…and the planet! Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries. You are free to reuse and remix our content provided you link back to the original post, and offer your new work under a similar license. Rather the overcapacity will lead to losses for power generators and will be eliminated by closing down older plants, as has happened with coal mining, steel and cement already. Furthermore, the underutilized coal-fired capacity can exacerbate the conflict between coal and variable renewable energy in the grid, as grid operators are known to curtail renewable power in favor of coal. For months, grid operators across Europe made plans to deal with the power drop-off and subsequent spike. Some pumped-water systems are considered batteries, since the falling water can be used to generate electricity, and there are ways to store small amounts of power in flywheels or conventional batteries. Hell, Europe is better in a lot of things (education, net neutrality, chemical safety regulations, antibiotic use, etc. In the US, our national medical care system is forbidden from negotiating drug prices thanks to intense lobbying, while medical costs have skyrocketed.
A number of African and small Asian countries also generate virtually all of their electricity with hydropower, including Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, and Zambia.
Estimates from the World Energy Council indicate that worldwide, wave energy has the potential to grow to a massive 10,000 gigawatts, more than double the world’s electricity-generating capacity from all sources today. Please note that some elements of posts (images, videos) may come with different licensing terms. Under the conventional curve, demand increases gradually from 5 AM to 2 PM, remains at or near peak until roughly 6 PM, and then slowly shifts down again. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis, LLC.
You can find out more about the inner workings of generators here.All non-renewable energy sources have limited supplies.
The goal, for decades, has been to match power demand to power supply at any given point during the day. Under the duck curve, demand skyrockets between 4-6 PM, peaks at 7 PM, and then begins falling sharply again. Similarly, hydropower in the European Union is relatively mature, with capacity increasing by less than one percent annually over the last 30 years. Now the world’s largest tidal operation, it has the capacity to provide electricity for half a million people on the country’s west coast. The power plants that are conventionally used to buffer peak demand during the summer are often older, with higher operational costs.
Not only does this require utilities to ramp up and down much more quickly, but the fixed costs of operating the power plants in question must be spread across a much smaller number of hours. Unfortunately, burning them also produces Sulphur Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide (Greenhouse Gases), which contributes to Global Warming.There is lots of uranium left for Nuclear power stations. The solar eclipse across Europe had the potential to cause problems by first causing a huge drop in power generation (faster than other, slower sources could be brought to full generating capacity) followed by an even larger spike in power generation as solar capacity came back online.Good planning eliminated both risks. In Italy, TSOs (Transmission Service Operators) chose to take their solar plants offline altogether, leaving a deficit of some 5GW offline between 7 AM and 2 PM.
Events like solar eclipses are relatively rare, but variation due to cloud cover, storms, or a drop-off in wind speed are all common. Most first-world power grids are designed to buffer a sudden loss of power in one area by ramping up production in a different spot, but grids in the future will need to be more flexible. To understand the duck, we need to first look at how conventional power demand plays out across a 24-hour day.This shows demand across industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. Note that in all cases, demand ramps up sharply through the middle of the day, hitting a peak from 2-6 PM, before declining again into the evening.

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