Led by cuts in coal-based power plants and thrust on renewable energy by India and China, the construction of such plants globally has witnessed a decline, indicating that global climate goals are within “feasible” reach, a new survey today said. The survey revealed that India and China have seen a significant slowdown in expansion of coal, which is a major cause of pollution and causes approximately 12 lakh deaths in India annually.
“For the first time since the beginning of the global coal boom a decade ago, developments in East and South Asia — in particular China’s wide-reaching restrictions on new coal plants and India’s indication that no new coal power is needed — appear to have brought global climate goals within feasible reach, raising the prospect that the worst levels of climate change might be avoided,” the survey said.
It however said that while “more progress” is needed and the margin for error is tight, results of the past year provide “good reason for optimism”. The survey authored jointly by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Coalswarm found that globally, there has been a 48 per cent decline in the overall pre-construction activity, a 62 per cent drop in new construction starts and an 85 per cent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits.
“This global slowdown in the coal power sector is a great opportunity for keeping global warming below 2 degree Celsius as per the Paris Agreement. Thus the commitment of achieving the 1.5 degree target looks more feasible,” it said.
Noting that 68 GW of construction of such plants in India and China is now frozen at over 100 project sites, the survey however pointed out that ongoing over-investment in coal-fired power in India is potentially wasting vast amounts of capital. “In India, 31 coal plant units at 13 sites totalling 12,725 MW of capacity have been stalled, mainly due to frozen financing. Power demand in India has not kept pace with expanding capacity. Besides this, the declining cost of renewables has caused many financial backers of coal projects to withdraw support, leading to a further freeze in construction activity,” the survey said.
Coal is a primary source for causing air pollution that leads to approximately 12 lakh deaths in India annually, Greenpeace said. While China has been cutting down on its coal consumption for the past three years and has vowed to cut 150 million tonnes of coal output capacity this year, India has gone a step “backward” with the recent news of postponing the implementation of emission norms for coal-fired thermal power plants, it said.
“Despite slowdown in construction of new plants and Plant Load Factors dipping to an all-time low, there are more than 170 GW of power plants under various stages of approval. India’s Environment Ministry continues to clear further coal power projects and the government continues to stress upon its target of mining 1.5 billion tonnes of coal by 2020,” said Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
It is estimated close to 25 per cent of Delhi’s air pollution is contributed by the secondary particles produced by thermal power plants and diluting the emission rules would be a step backwards in the fight against the health crisis due to air pollution in India.
The survey said that after a decade of unprecedented expansion, the amount of coal power capacity under development worldwide saw a dramatic drop in 2016, mainly due to shifting policies and economic conditions in China and India. “From being one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, India is now in a position to assume leadership in fighting both climate change and rising air pollution crises.
“Our ambition for massive upscaling of renewable energy is definitely a big step in the right direction, but we need to go the full mile by rationalising further investments on new coal but focus on reducing emissions from existing plants,” said Dahiya.
Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global campaigner on Coal and Air Pollution at Greenpeace said that in China and in other parts of the world, 2016 marked a veritable turning point. “China has stopped new coal projects after the astonishing growth of clean energy has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs ably covered from non-fossil sources since 2013.
“Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the US and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs,” Myllyvirta said.
The survey said India experienced a slowdown in coal plant development, driven primarily by the reluctance of banks and other financiers to provide further funds. “Since China and India together accounted for 86 per cent of coal power built globally from 2006 through 2016, the slowdown in these two countries carries global implications.
“An end to the coal plant construction boom brings the possibility of a global phase-out of coal over the coming decades, a prerequisite to reining in climate change,” the survey said. In India, the Ministry of Power in June, 2016 said that the country had enough coal-fired plants to meet demand through 2019, and recommended that developers curtail their plans accordingly, the survey said.
The draft National Energy Plan, released in December, 2016, states that no further coal power capacity beyond that currently under construction will be needed until at least 2027. India is currently in the midst of a solar power revolution, with bids as low as Rs 2.97 (USD 0.044) per kilowatt-hour and government plans to install 215 GW of renewables (biomass, small hydro, wind, distributed solar PV, and utility scale solar PV) by 2027, the survey said.
“The combination of excessive coal power capacity and declining cost of renewables has caused many financial backers of coal projects to withdraw support.
“According to the Ministry of Power’s December, 2016 Broad Status Report as well as additional reports from plant operators and photographic evidence, construction activity is now on hold for 31 coal plant units at 13 sites totalling 12,725 MW of capacity, mainly due to frozen financing,” it said.