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Where is Peak Coal in China?

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Where is Peak Coal in China?

Where is Peak Coal in China?

With supply remaining abundant and demand staying weak, the debate continues on when Peak Coal will occur in China. However, as Wood Mackenzie notes in today’s infographic, it is perhaps more a question of “where” rather than “when”.

China’s a big and diverse place. The country not only has world’s largest population, but it is second biggest in land mass as well. It’s really a question of the provinces in China, and their respective trends in growth and electricity generation.

Coastal demand for coal is already peaking in China, and this is partially because it is those areas along the coast that were first opened up to free market activity via China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs). They have already had their boom and that growth is now tapering. In the Chinese mainland however, many provinces are recording growth rates of upwards of 7% as China implements its Go West policy.

Lastly, the infographic points out the energy mix in 2030 in both coastal and inland China. On the coast, energy from nuclear and natural gas are almost equally important as coal for future energy needs. However, inland it is all coal, where over 3,000 TWh of coal capacity will be created between 2015 and 2030. This is more than all solar, biomass, nuclear, gas, wind, and hydro combined!

The country is also building an Energy Superhighway that will transmit 825TWh of coal-fired power eastwards towards the coast by 2030.

Original graphic from: Wood Mackenzie

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Coal

Every Coal Power Plant in the World (1927-2019)

See every major coal power plant ever commissioned on this animation, which covers a time period from 1927 until 2019.

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If you live in a developed country, it’s been clear that the appetite for coal power is falling.

Not only has coal been singled out as a primary source of carbon emissions and air pollution, but it’s also been getting phased out in favor of cheap natural gas in some regions around the world.

In the U.S., electricity generation from coal has been dropping since the late 2000s, and in Europe the departure from coal has accelerated even quicker. In fact, it’s estimated that European coal power output could fall 23% in 2019 alone.

A Different Global Story

However, despite a growing consensus around the use of thermal coal in the West, the global story is actually quite different.

Today’s animation from SVT Nyheter details every coal power plant in the world from 1927 to 2019, and it shows that coal power — especially in South Asia — has continued to ramp up.

As of 2019, there are an estimated 2,425 coal-fired power plants in the world, combining for an operating capacity of about 2,000 GW and roughly 15 billion tonnes of CO₂ emissions.

Global Tipping Point?

Since 2010, there have been hundreds of new coal power plants commissioned — and almost all of them can be found somewhere in Asia:

CountryCoal capacity (2010)Coal capacity (2018)% change (2010-2018)
🇨🇳 China 630,238 MW972,514 MW+54%
🇮🇳 India100,037 MW220,670 MW+121%
Other Asia127,515 MW191,088 MW+50%

However, it seems that this could be the year that the story changes.

Preliminary data suggests that Indian coal consumption could drop in 2019 for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, it’s expected that China’s growing coal capacity could be fully offset by decreasing use of the fossil fuel in developed nations.

As a result, according to Carbon Brief, global coal power generation could fall 3% in 2019:

If this trend continues, it could be a sign of a tipping point in global coal consumption — and if the sentiment around coal shifts the same way in China, the potential impact could be amplified even further.

Will 2020 provide additional evidence towards a global sea change in coal dependence, or is 2019 just a blip on the radar?

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Base Metals

China’s Staggering Demand for Commodities

China uses more steel, cement, copper, nickel, and coal than the rest of the world combined. This chart shows China’s incredible demand for commodities.

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China’s Staggering Demand for Commodities

>50% of all steel, cement, nickel, and copper goes there

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

It’s said that in China, a new skyscraper is built every five days.

China is building often, and they are building higher. In fact, just last year, China completed 77 of the world’s 144 new supertall buildings, spread through 36 different Chinese cities. These are structures with a minimum height of 656 feet (200 meters).

For comparison’s sake, there are only 113 buildings in New York City’s current skyline that are over 600 feet.

Unbelievable Scale

It’s always hard to put China’s size and scope in perspective – and we’ve tried before by showing you 35 Chinese cities as big as countries, or highlighting the growing prominence of the domestic tech scene.

Today’s chart also falls in that category, and it focuses in on the raw materials that are needed to make all this growth possible.

Year of dataCommodityChina's % of Global DemandSource
2017Cement59%Statista
2016Nickel56%Statista
2017Coal50%NAB
2016Copper50%Global X Funds
2017Steel50%World Steel Association
2017Aluminum47%MC Group
2016Pork47%OECD
2017Cotton33%USDA
2017Rice31%Statista
2017Gold27%China Gold Association, WGC
2017Corn23%USDA
2016Oil14%Enerdata

Note: Because this data is not all in one easy place, it is sourced from many different industry associations, banks, and publications. Most of the data comes from 2017, but some is from 2016.

China Demand > World

There are five particularly interesting commodity categories here – and in all of them, China’s demand equals or exceeds that of the rest of the world combined.

Cement: 59%
The primary ingredient in concrete is needed for roads, buildings, engineering structures (bridges, dams, etc.), foundations, and in making joints for drains and pipes.

Nickel: 57%
Nickel’s primary use is in making stainless steel, which is corrosion resistant. It also gets used in superalloys, batteries, and an array of other uses.

Steel: 50%
Steel is used for pretty much everything, but demand is primarily driven by the construction, machinery, and automotive sectors.

Copper: 50%
Copper is one of the metals driving the green revolution, and it’s used in electronics, wiring, construction, machinery, and automotive sectors, primarily.

Coal: 50%
China’s winding down coal usage – but when you have 1.4 billion people demanding power, it has to be done with that in mind. China has already hit peak coal, but the fossil fuel does still account for 65% of the country’s power generated by source.

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