More than 95% of the coal plant capacity starting construction this year was in China, with annual new construction starts consistently rising since hitting a nine-year low in 2019
According to new quarterly data from Global Energy Monitor (GEM), new construction starts—a key indicator of coal power capacity growth—looks set to decline outside of China for the second year in a row.
As of October 2023, data in the Global Coal Plant Tracker showed that construction starts for the year are under 2 GW, excluding China. This is well below the nearly 16 GW annual average for the same set of countries in the last eight years (2015 to 2022). The Global Coal Plant Tracker provides information on coal-fired power units from around the world generating 30 megawatts and above. It catalogs every operating coal-fired generating unit, every new unit proposed since 2010, and every unit retired since 2000.
Coal power capacity beginning construction outside of China is on track for 2023 to reach a record annual low since 2015.
With the UN’s COP28 kicking off this week, the collapse in new coal breaking ground provides momentum for world leaders seeking to rein in the remaining 131 coal projects (110 GW) outside of China still under consideration—projects that have either been announced or are in the pre-permit and permitted stages.
The analysis found that in the first nine months of 2023, 18.3 GW of coal capacity moved from being proposed (announced, pre-permit, permitted) to shelved given the lack of recent updates or cancelled altogether. It found 39 GW of additional coal capacity moved from being considered shelved to cancelled, up from 32 GW in all of 2022.
However, this decrease in coal under consideration was tempered by 15.3 GW of entirely new proposals under consideration in India (8.6 GW), Indonesia (2.5 GW), Kazakhstan (4.1 GW), and Mongolia (0.05 GW), and 4.2 GW of previously shelved or cancelled capacity now considered proposed again.
Currently, about 110 GW of coal power capacity is still under consideration outside of China, with the top 10 countries in terms of cumulative proposed coal making up 83%, led by India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The analysis also revealed that more than 95% of the coal plant capacity starting construction this year was in China, with annual new construction starts there consistently rising since hitting a nine-year low in 2019.
As of the latest available data (July 2023), coal power capacity under construction outside China is highest in Southeast Asia and South Asia: India (31.6 GW), Indonesia (14.5 GW), Bangladesh (5.8 GW), and Vietnam (5.4 GW) make up 84% of the 67 GW under construction excluding China.
Flora Champenois, Project Manager for the Global Coal Power Tracker, said “Seeing new coal starts bottom out and the face-off between projects under consideration versus those that have been dropped is a welcomed dose of reality ahead of tough negotiations at COP28. Governments, utilities and banks all have a role to play in accelerating the global coal to clean energy transition, starting with an end to new coal projects.”
Coal in India
According to the analysis, in India, power companies and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee ushered in a new coal permitting spree this year, with projects appearing or progressing in six different states—Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh.
So far, four non-captive Indian coal plant projects (4.5 GW) have received permits in the first nine months of 2023, up from zero in all of 2022. Ten other coal plant proposals (12.4 GW) also moved forward in the permitting process, and five additional coal plants or expansions (6 GW) have been announced or re-announced so far this year. In November 2023, the Indian Ministry of Power revised its thermal capacity addition plan from 51 GW to up to 77 GW by 2031-32, citing growing demand. The government reportedly has a plan to add 12 GW of new coal capacity by March 2024.
The report said that pursuing new coal projects diverts financial support and judicious planning efforts away from renewable energy projects, resulting in a lock-in of resources that could otherwise be invested in a true coal to clean strategy. The report added that an orderly move towards clean energy will not only help confront the climate crisis, but, if done right, can also raise economic productivity, ensure energy access and energy security, create jobs, and improve environmental and public health outcomes.