China approved 23 coal power projects in September 2022. The list of approved projects does not state the capacity of all projects, but the 16 projects where capacity is indicated sum up to 22.7 GW. Seventeen projects are from large power generation groups such as National Energy Group, Datang, State Power Investment and China Resources Power. Compared with previous years, China’s large state-owned enterprises have significantly ramped up investment in coal fired power generation, showing a renewed interest in coal projects. According to NEA statistics, China’s major power generating companies invested CNY 320.9 billion from January to August, an increase of 18.7% year-on-year. Within this sum, investment into thermal power grew by 60.1%, reaching CNY 48 billion. This news comes after the official websites of Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission and the Shenzhen Municipal Development and Reform Commission had already listed six coal power projects with a total installed capacity up to 9.7 GW for public comment, between August 12 and September 7.
The recent increase in new coal projects is likely connected to the power shortages China experienced in 2021 and 2022. These have led to a renewed emphasis of coal as a pillar of energy supply security because China has large domestic deposits, which translates to relatively low fuel prices and very low reliance on imports. At the same time, China’s power demand is still increasing, demonstrating a need for increased capacity, although there are debates whether additional coal capacity is necessary or whether better utilization of existing capacities and interprovincial transmission could instead meet the demand.
However, a major difference to previous coal power investments is that most of these new investments combine solar and wind energy with coal power. As part of China’s efforts to increase the share of clean energy in the power system, wind and solar power will act as the main power source, and thermal power plants as a secondary source. Therefore, the new coal power plants are typically fitted with technology that enables them to ramp up and down faster, so that they can better respond to fluctuating renewable energy output. For example, the Hami-Chongqing ultra-high voltage DC transmission project currently under construction will be connected to 10.2 GW of solar and wind power capacity and 4 GW of coal power capacity.