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China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants

Posted by Lindy on June 22, 2009


May10 2009  New York Times Link

China electricty graphIANJIN, China — China’s frenetic construction of coal-fired power plants has raised worries around the world about the effect on climate change. China now uses more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, making it the world’s largest emitter of gases that are warming the planet.

But largely missing in the hand-wringing is this: China has emerged in the past two years as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost.

While the United States is still debating whether to build a more efficient kind of coal-fired power plant that uses extremely hot steam, China has begun building such plants at a rate of one a month.

While construction has stalled on a new generation of low-pollution power plants that turn coal into a gas before burning it in the US , China has already approved equipment purchases for just such a power plant, to be assembled soon in a muddy field here in Tianjin.

Western countries continue to rely heavily on coal-fired power plants built decades ago with outdated, inefficient technology that burn a lot of coal and emit considerable amounts of carbon dioxide. China has begun requiring power companies to retire an older, more polluting power plant for each new one they build.

This is not to say that China has got it all right. There are still old inefficient power stations producing electricity and some of the better ones are not being used to their best effects. Only half the country’s coal-fired power plants have the emissions control equipment to remove sulphur compounds that cause acid rain, and China has not begun regulating some of the emissions that lead to heavy smog in big cities.

After relying until recently on older technology, “China has since become the major world market for advanced coal-fired power plants with high-specification emission control systems.”

Recent international reports have cut its forecast of the annual increase in Chinese emissions of global warming gases, to 3 percent from 3.2 percent, in response to technological gains.

But by continuing to rely heavily on coal, which supplies 80 percent of its electricity, China ensures that it will keep emitting a lot of carbon dioxide; even an efficient coal-fired power plant emits twice the carbon dioxide of a natural gas-fired plant. So the next step is who will be first to remove all CO2 from thermal energy production? Many countries, including the UK, say they are investigating it strongly. But China has just built a small, experimental facility near Beijing to remove carbon dioxide from power station emissions and use it to provide carbonation for beverages, and the government has a short list of possible locations for a large experiment to capture and store carbon dioxide.

But it does not stop there. China is making other efforts to reduce its global warming emissions. It has doubled its total wind energy capacity in each of the past four years, and is poised to pass the United States as soon as this year as the world’s largest market for wind power equipment. China is building considerably more nuclear power plants than the rest of the world combined, and these do not emit carbon dioxide after they are built.

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