A Comment: the Future of New Coal Capacity

Considering the article, For Every New Coal Plant Being Built, Two Are Being Cancelled, we might observe first this chart of the top 20 locations of completed coal plants, 2010-2014:

Top 20 locations of completed coal plants, 2010-2014 (megawatts). Source: Global Coal Plant Tracker, January 2015

Top 20 locations of completed coal plants, 2010-2014 (megawatts). Source: Global Coal Plant Tracker, January 2015

First, note that we might aggregate these in five regions with percentages of the total, as follows (I hope I did the math right):

  1. 12 Chinese provinces (67%)
  2. 5 Indian states (18.65%)
  3. The US (5.88%)
  4. the EU (4.62%)
  5. Indonesia (3.83%)

It happens that the world has experienced a surge in new coal capacity that began in 2005. But clearly that was due to a large buildup of coal-burning plants in China and, to a lesser degree, India.

Now, let’s look at the following graph showing a steep rise in the construction of coal-bruning plants, which seems clearly to have begun to decline in 2013:

Worldwide coal-fired generation net capacity additions, 1980-2013. Source: Platts WEPP January 2015 and CoalSwarm analysis

Worldwide coal-fired generation net capacity additions, 1980-2013. Source: Platts WEPP January 2015 and CoalSwarm analysis

Two things happened that were noteworthy in 2014, the year after the graph ends. One was that output of Chinese coal-burning plants fell, despite new plants coming on line. This is because of air pollution, which led the central government to declare a “war on coal,” despite the fact that its own policies had produced a buildup of coal in the first place. You might take a look at this article: China’s Coal Use and Estimated CO2 Emissions Fell in 2014.

The second is that the US EPA’s policies have become sufficiently discouraging for the construction of new coal plants that none came on line in 2014. These policies are not likely to change in the immediate future.

So what would we expect for new coal-burning capacity for 2015 and 2016? My bet is this:

Crash

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