Asia has been warned that it has to curb its plans to expand the use of coal or it will wreck any chance of the world meeting the climate goals within the Paris Agreement.
Financial think tank Carbon Tracker has issued a new report which identifies the five Asian countries which are responsible for 80% of the world’s planned new coal plants, endangering Paris climate goals despite the availability of cheaper renewables.
The report, Do Not Revive Coal, warned China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam who have plans to build more than 600 new units with a combined capacity of over 300GW, ignoring calls from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for all new coal plants to be cancelled. He said phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the “single most important step” in tackling the climate crisis.
The report added that 92% of these planned units will be uneconomic, even under business as usual, and up to $150 billion could be wasted. Consumers and taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill because these countries either subsidise coal power or prop it up with favourable market design, power purchase agreements or other forms of policy support.
“These last bastions of coal power are swimming against the tide, when renewables offer a cheaper solution that supports global climate targets. Investors should steer clear of new coal projects, many of which are likely to generate negative returns from the outset.” said, Carbon Tracker’s Head of Power & Utilities, Catharina Hillenbrand Von Der Neyen.
As well as modelling the financials of 80% of planned new coal, Do Not Revive Coal evaluated the economics of 95% of operating coal plants at the boiler level worldwide: over 6,000 operating units accounting for around 2,000 GW. It is the third report in Carbon Tracker’s annual Powering Down Coal series.
“The same five Asian countries also operate nearly three quarters of the current global coal fleet, with 55% in China and 12% in India,” said Carbon Tracker.
The report warns that around 27% of existing capacity is already unprofitable and another 30% is close to breakeven, generating a nominal profit of no more than $5 per MWh. Worldwide, $220 billion of operating coal plants are deemed at risk of becoming stranded if the world meets the Paris climate targets.
It found that around 80% of the operating global coal fleet could be replaced with new renewables with an immediate cost saving. By 2024, new renewables will be cheaper than coal in every major region, and by 2026 almost 100% of global coal capacity will be more expensive to run than building and operating new renewables.
The think tank said growing competition from renewables, coupled with increased regulation, is likely to drive continued falls in coal plant usage, undermining their profitability. The report notes that coal plant economics are highly sensitive to utilisation and just a 5% annual reduction to the conservative base assumptions in its analysis would see global coal unprofitability almost double to 52% by 2030 and rise to 77% by 2040.
“Coal no longer makes sense financially or environmentally. Governments should now create a level playing field which allows renewables to grow at least cost, using post-COVID stimulus spending as an opportunity to lay the foundations for a sustainable energy system,” continued Von Der Neyen.
“However, the silence from large polluting countries, including China and India, on more aggressive climate measures at the recent Leaders’ Summit on Climate spoke volumes, suggesting they still have internal priorities that conflict with policies that seek to mitigate climate change,” the report said. “At the corporate level, just ten companies account for around 40% of the stranding risk, of which NTPC and the Adani Group in India, and PLN in Indonesia are by far the most exposed. Of the ten most exposed companies, seven are head quartered in India.”