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China to Increase Coal Production Amid Heatwave-sparked Surge in Electricity Demand

by Martina Igini Asia Jun 27th 20223 mins
China to Increase Coal Production Amid Heatwave-sparked Surge in Electricity Demand

Following the unprecedented heatwave that hit northern and central China last week, Premier Li Keqiang called for an increase in coal production and consumption in a bid to meet the record-breaking surge in power demand and prevent power outages. Despite calling for greater efforts to ramp up clean energy investments, Li said that coal is the country’s only immediate answer to the country’s power needs.

Heatwaves in northern and central China led to unprecedented electricity demand, as millions of residents across the provinces of Shandong, Henan, and Hebei turned to air conditioners to escape the sweltering heat. 

Several cities in Shandong, one of China’s most populous provinces, issued the highest level of heat alert last week, warning residents to stay at home as temperatures surpassed 40C. The extreme heat sparked a huge demand for electricity among the region’s more than 100 million people, pushing its electrical grid to a record high of 92.94 million kilowatts on Tuesday, beating the 2020 high of 90 million kilowatts, CCTV said. Neighbouring Henan province – where cement roads cracked under extreme heat – also reported two straight days of record power demand.

Visiting a thermal power company in the sweltering province of Hebei last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China must increase coal production capacity to “resolutely prevent power outages”, the South China Morning Post reported. The country is the world’s biggest coal producer – burning more than the rest of the world combined – as well as the top emitter of greenhouse gases annually.

Aiming to become carbon neutral by 2060, local governments have pushed up investments in renewables in recent months. China has been working hard to expand its use of solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams, and without a doubt has produced remarkable results. However, more than half of its electricity is generated from burning coal. Amid an unprecedented energy crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic last year, China was forced to increase coal production. In 2021 alone, the country built more than triple the amount of new coal power capacity as the rest of the world combined. Now, global warming is sparking a new crisis, forcing the economic superpower to further increase its reliance on fossil fuels. 

On one hand, the Chinese government is very aware of the need to move away from coal to more sustainable alternatives, as this new coal “spree” will derail its plans of keeping global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target which was established in Paris in 2015. On the other hand, Li made clear that coal was the only immediate answer to China’s power needs, and the record-shattering amounts of coal China has been mining and importing gave it enough of a stockpile to address the summer heat emergency.

“Taking advantage of the country’s coal-based energy resources would not just bolster the indigenous push for energy security, but bode well for stabilising global energy prices and international supply chains”, declared Li, according to the Global Times.

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About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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