China is, by far, the largest consumer of coal worldwide. In 2011, China accounted for nearly half the coal burned globally, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. China is also the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that China’s coal usage is “very likely to peak before 2020,” according to a report (PDF) published by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). The author, Li Zhidong, a professor at Nagaoka University of Technology in Japan, examined data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics to find that the country’s appetite for coal is rising at a dramatically slower rate today than a few years ago. In 2011, China’s coal usage jumped 9 percent; last year, it rose only 2 percent.
Several factors are behind the trend. The first is simply that China’s manufacturing sector has slumped, meaning that factories required less additional electricity.
A more lasting factor, however, is that China’s push to expand renewable energy usage has made coal account for a declining share of power generation. In 2010, coal-fired power plants supplied 75.6 percent of China’s electricity; that dipped to 73.3 percent by 2013. Whether or not the economy picks up, the share of coal power is likely to continue to decline. In just the past three years, China has busily installed new dams, windmills, solar panels, and nuclear plants, adding 64 gigawatts of hydropower, 46 Gw of wind power, 15 Gw of solar power, and 4 Gw of nuclear power, according to NBR.