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To prevent harmful levels of warming above 1.5 degrees, coal power must be phased out completely by 2030. Pixabay

China was the only G20 country that saw a large increase in coal generation in the pandemic year, said research published on Monday by energy think tank Ember. India, on the other hand, saw a decline of five percent.

Globally there was a record fall in coal generation in 2020, which was mirrored in India and other top coal power countries. China is now responsible for more than half (53 percent) of the world’s coal-fired electricity.

The pandemic paused electricity demand growth in 2020, enabling new wind and solar to drive a record fall in coal power.

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Wind and solar showed resilient growth in 2020, up by 15 percent (plus 314 TWh), equivalent to more than the UK’s entire annual electricity production.

In 2020, India’s coal power declined for the second year in a row. Pixabay

This helped push coal power to a record fall of four percent (minus 346 TWh).

China bucked this trend, standing out as the only G20 country that saw a large increase in both electricity demand and coal power in 2020.

Despite an impressive 16 percent growth in wind and solar (plus 98 TWh), China’s coal generation rose by 1.7 percent (plus 77 TWh) as its demand for electricity grew by four percent (plus 297 TWh).

“Despite some progress, China is still struggling to curb its coal generation growth,” said Ember’s senior analyst, Muyi Yang.

“Fast-rising demand for electricity is driving up coal power and emissions. More sustainable demand growth will enable China to phase out its large coal fleet, especially the least efficient sub-critical coal units, and provide greater opportunity for the country to attain its climate aspirations.”

It says coal power declines in India and other top coal countries.

Since 2015, global electricity demand has increased by 11%. Pixabay

The four largest coal-generating countries after China all saw coal power decline in 2020: India (minus five percent), the US (minus 20 percent), Japan (minus one percent), and South Korea (minus 13 percent).

India’s coal power declined for a second consecutive year in 2020 (minus five percent), driven by growth in solar (plus 27 percent) and a drop in electricity demand (minus two percent) due to the impact of Covid-19.

“India has started its clean electricity transition,” said Ember’s senior analyst Aditya Lolla. “India now needs to ramp up wind and solar considerably in the next decade to both replace coal and meet rising electricity demand. India has the opportunity to ensure that coal generation doesn’t see a resurgence after the last two years of coal falling.”

However, emissions are still not falling.

Despite the record fall in coal in 2020, power sector emissions were still around two percent higher in the pandemic year than in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed.

Coal remained the world’s single largest power source in 2020. Global coal generation was only 0.8 percent lower in 2020 than in 2015 and gas generation was 11 percent higher. Despite the wind and solar generation doubling since 2015, this has not been sufficient to replace fossil fuels due to rising demand.

In 2020, coal remained the world’s single largest source of energy. Pixabay

Global electricity demand rose 11 percent since 2015. During this period, China’s electricity demand rose by 1,880 TWh (plus 33 percent), which is more than India’s entire electricity demand in 2020.

In Asia, where electricity demand grew quickest, clean electricity was only able to meet part of the rising electricity demand; around half in both China (54 percent) and India (57 percent) from 2015 to 2020.

Where coal has fallen significantly, including in Europe and the US, the emission reductions have been partly canceled out by an increase in fossil gas.

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“Progress is nowhere near fast enough,” said Ember’s global lead Dave Jones.

“Despite coal’s record drop during the pandemic, it still fell short of what is needed. Coal power needs to collapse by 80 percent by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming above 1.5 degrees. We need to build enough clean electricity to simultaneously replace coal and electrify the global economy. World leaders have yet to wake up to the enormity of the challenge.” (IANS/KB)


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