COP26 aims to ban coal. Asia is building hundreds of power plants to burn it down

  • New coal-fired power plants will emit 28 billion tonnes of carbon
  • COP26 host wants deal to end coal use
  • Asian governments say coal is necessary for economic growth
  • Coal remains the world’s leading fuel for power generation

UDANGUDI, India / TOKYO, October 29 (Reuters) – On the coast near the southern tip of India, workers toil on a jetty carrying a conveyor belt that cuts a mile into the Indian Ocean where azure blue waters are deep enough for ships to dock and unload huge cargoes of coal.

The belt will transport millions of tonnes of coal each year to a giant power plant several miles inland that will burn fuel for at least 30 years to generate electricity for the more than 70 million people who live in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Udangudi plant is one of nearly 200 coal-fired power plants under construction in Asia, including 95 in China, 28 in India and 23 in Indonesia, according to data from the US association Global Energy Monitor (GEM).

This new fleet will produce global warming emissions for decades and is a measure of the challenge world leaders face when they meet for climate talks in Glasgow, where they hope to end coal as the source. of energy.

The use of coal is one of the many issues dividing industrialized and developing countries as they seek to tackle climate change.

Many industrialized countries have shut down coal-fired power plants for years to reduce emissions. The United States alone has pulled 301 factories since 2000.

But in Asia, home to 60% of the world’s population and about half of the world’s manufacturing industry, coal use is increasing rather than decreasing as rapidly developing countries seek to meet growing demand for electricity. .

More than 90% of the 195 coal-fired power plants under construction worldwide are in Asia, according to GEM data.

Tamil Nadu is India’s second most industrialized state and one of the country’s leading producers of renewable energy. But it is also building the most important coal-fired power stations in the country. Read more

“We cannot depend on solar and wind power alone,” a senior official at Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corp. told Reuters.

“You can have the charcoal cake and solar icing,” he said, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Coal-fired power plants in operation, under construction and in authorization phase by country


Despite dramatic increases in renewable energy production, the world economy remains dependent on coal for electricity. In Asia, the share of coal in the production mix is ​​double the world average, especially in booming economies like India.

In 2020, more than 35% of the world’s electricity came from coal, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. About 25% came from natural gas, 16% from hydroelectric dams, 10% from nuclear and 12% from renewables such as solar and wind.

This year, demand for coal is set for a new record, pushing prices to record highs and contributing to a global fuel rush. Read more

Record-breaking demand for coal is contributing to a rapid rise in emissions in 2021 after falling last year, when restrictions on the movement of billions of people to slow the pandemic caused fuel consumption to plummet.

While some of the new coal-fired power plants under construction will replace older, more polluting stations, together they will increase total emissions.

“Completing the capacity that is already being built in these countries will increase demand and emissions for coal,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, chief analyst at the Clean Air and Energy Research Center.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new factories alone will reach nearly 28 billion tonnes over their 30-year lifespan, according to GEM.

That’s not far from the 32 billion tonnes of total global CO2 emissions from all sources in 2020, according to BP, stressing how difficult it will be for the leaders meeting in Glasgow – including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – to make significant progress on climate change.

Indian Environment Secretary Rameshwar Prasad Gupta told Reuters in a recent interview that India was on track to meet its goal of reducing the country’s carbon footprint and that with this coal it would drop also, but it cannot be abolished.

“Look, every country has its strengths. We have coal, we have to depend on it,” Gupta said.

“Our position is that once you achieve carbon intensity reduction targets, it will have an impact… Leave it to us to do it in coal or elsewhere.”

Anil Swarup, a former coal secretary, did the same in an interview. “The expansion of renewable energy is essential, but coal will remain India’s main source of energy for at least the next 15 years, and production must be increased to meet our energy needs,” he said. he declares.

Number of coal-fired power plants in operation or under construction


Across India, 281 coal-fired power plants are operating and beyond the 28 under construction, 23 more are in the pre-construction phase, according to GEM data.

These numbers are eclipsed by China, the world’s largest coal miner, consumer and emitter, whose leader, President Xi Jinping, is not expected to attend COP26. More than 1,000 coal-fired power stations are in operation, nearly 240 in the pipeline or already under construction.

Together, coal-fired power plants in the world’s second-largest economy will emit 170 billion tonnes of carbon over their lifetimes, more than all global CO2 emissions between 2016 and 2020, according to BP data.

Lifetime CO2 emissions of coal-fired power plants by region and stage of development

Although it also has the largest renewable energy capacity in the world, China is currently suffering from a major energy crisis and has urged coal miners to increase their production. Read more

This is expected to increase coal consumption in the near term, although China plans to reduce coal consumption from 2026. read more

Nonetheless, total global coal consumption is expected to increase, driven by accelerated use in South and Southeast Asia, where projects under construction will increase coal burning capacity by 17% and 26% respectively.

Lifetime CO2 emissions of coal-fired power plants by country


Even in economies committed to reducing emissions, the hold of coal remains strong.

Japan, whose nuclear industry has been in crisis since the Fukushima disaster, has turned to coal to fill the void and is building seven new large coal-fired power plants.

Leading producer JERA plans to add clean-burning ammonia for use with coal to help meet its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, and potentially keeping older units running for longer. Read more

On a bay near Nagoya, JERA’s 30-year-old, 4,100-megawatt Hekinan station, once the largest in Asia, supplies power to auto giant Toyota Motor Corp.

Like many power plants, Hekinan’s boilers depend on fuel from major exporters such as Australia, where coal is both a vital source of revenue – $ 18 billion for the current fiscal year – and an apple. of contention with allies urging ambitious emission reductions.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to attend the Glasgow talks. But Resources Minister Keith Pitt said there would be a demand for coal for decades and made it clear the country would not be swayed by pressure from banks, regulators and investors to hamper the industry. . Read more

“As long as the market exists, Australia will seek to fill it,” Pitt said.

($ 1 = 1.3398 Australian dollar)

Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in Udangudi, Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Gavin Maguire, Simon Webb and Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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