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Global Coal Power Surges Despite Renewables Boom

Global Coal Power Surges Despite Renewables Boom

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The world’s dependence on coal-fired power plants witnessed a surprising rise in 2023, marking the highest annual increase since 2016. This trend, highlighted in a report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), comes despite record growth in renewable energy sources.

The key driver behind this uptick is China, which saw a whopping 47.4 GW of new coal capacity added last year. This accounts for two-thirds of the global increase, with a small rise also observed outside China for the first time since 2019.

While decommissioning of existing plants slowed down globally, leading to a net increase of 48.4 GW in operating coal capacity, retirements in the US and Europe were lower than previous years. This contributed to the overall rise.

Experts warn that this trend is unsustainable and incompatible with long-term climate goals. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that complete elimination of global coal power capacity is necessary by 2040 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The current pace of retirements falls far short of this target. At 21.1 GW retired in 2023, it would take an average of 126 GW of closures annually for the next 17 years to meet the 2040 deadline. This translates to shutting down roughly two coal plants every week.

Adding to the concern is the fact that an additional 578 GW of coal capacity is currently under development globally, with China alone accounting for 408 GW – enough to power all of India.

GEM’s report emphasizes the need for countries to accelerate coal phase-out plans and translate commitments into concrete retirement schedules for individual plants. Currently, only 15% of the world’s operating coal capacity has a confirmed retirement plan aligned with climate goals.

The report also highlights a positive trend – growing global awareness about the need for cleaner energy sources. As of January 2024, 101 countries have either committed to “no new coal” policies or abandoned previous coal expansion plans. This includes 12 new additions to the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) in 2023.

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The report, titled “Boom and Bust Coal 2024,” is a collaborative effort by GEM and several other environmental organizations. It serves as a critical reminder that while progress is being made towards cleaner energy, the fight against coal dependence is far from over.

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