Mythbusting some mythbusting about Chinese coal

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“Next time someone tells you China is building a new plant every week, you can pleasantly respond: bullS*%@!”

Or so claims the Sierra Club’s Justin Guay in what I can confidently and pleasantly call a bullshit piece in the Puffington Host about the China coal bubble supposedly bursting.

To his credit he actually presents some evidence and numbers to back up his silly claim:

While it’s true China has been on a spree over the past decade it turns out that the industry is now running on fumes (no pun intended). In 2011 a full one-third of coal plants approved in the country were stalled and investment in new coal plants weren’t even half the level they were in 2005. Even better, China actually closed down over 80 GW of coal plants between 2001-2010 and is planning to phase out another 20 GW. To put that in perspective that’s roughly the size of ALL electricity sources in Spain home to the world’s11th largest electricity sector. So next time someone tells you China is building a new plant every week, you can pleasantly respond: bullS*%@!

However, this is somewhat bizarre. Surely if you want to show that China is not building a new coal plant every week you would give figures for how many coal plants it is actually building, not how many it is shutting down. It’s rather like me claiming Vietnamese restaurants are not growing in New York, but only saying how many are closing. It doesn’t exactly give my claim any punch.

So, 80 GW of coal decommissioned from 2001 to 2010! Impressive. And how long did it take China to build 80 GW of coal plants to replace those? Well, they basically did it in 2006 alone:


So, even if we account for the 80 GW of decommissioned coal plants China still averaged over 50 GW of new coal every year from 2005 to 2011. And 50 GW a year works out at 1 GW a week, which is basically one coal plant each week.

Perhaps 2012 was no different? Here again, Mr. Guay starts peddling myths:

So where is investment going? Renewables, renewables, renewables. Since 2009 renewable energy investment has outpaced coal investment in China. Even better, the gap between each is growing. In fact, wind alone outpaced new coal plant investment in China in 2012. Money talks, and in China it’s increasingly saying renewables.

First off, Guay makes the obvious mistake of not grasping the difference between investments in capital intensive renewables capacity, in this case mostly hydro plants, and less capital intensive coal plants.

And yes, “wind alone outpaced new coal plant investment in China in 2012”. No, it did not. In real terms coal growth outpaced wind growth nearly ten to one. I’ve covered this before, and as I said at the time “this now appears to a zombie fact, and I expect it to be repeated regularly in the too often fact free debate around energy.” Guay seems intent on proving my point. And perhaps he should have read the number of coal plants China built in 2012 according to the story he linked to: 50 GW, which seems to do a good job of confirming the truth of these supposedly bullshit claims.

So, if Justin Guay ever tells you something is bullshit simply hold up the evidence he presents in his own articles.