Coal power in the People's Republic of China


Coal power in the People's Republic of China
Entrance to a small coal mine in China.
A coal shipment underway in China.
An operating power plant in China.

The People's Republic of China is the largest consumer of coal in the world,[1] and is about to become the largest user of coal-derived electricity, generating 1.95 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, or 68.7% of its electricity from coal as of 2006 (compared to 1.99 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, or 49% for the US).[2][3] Hydroelectric power supplied another 20.7% of China's electricity needs in 2006.

With approximately 13 percent of the world's proven reserves, there is debate as to how many years these reserves will last at current levels of consumption.[4]

China's coal mining industry is the largest and also deadliest in the world in terms of human safety[5] where thousands of people die every year in the coal pits, compared to 30 per year for coal power in the United States.[6] Coal production rose 8.1% in 2006 over the previous year, reaching 2.38 billion tons, and the nation's largest coal enterprises saw their profits exceed 67 billion yuan, or $8.75 billion.[7]

Contents

Resource flow

Coal reserves

Coal reserves in BTUs as of 2009
Coal resources in China (2001)

As of the end of 2006, China had 62 billion tons of anthracite and 52 billion tons of lignite quality coal. This ranks China third in the world in terms of total coal reserves behind the United States and Russia. Most reserves are located in the north and north-west of the country, which poses a large logistical problem for supplying electricity to the more heavily populated coastal areas.[3] At current levels of production, China has 48 years worth of reserves.[8] However, others suggest that China has enough coal to sustain its economic growth for a century or more even though demand is currently outpacing production.[4]

Coal production

Production of coal within China by type.
For reference: GDP of the PRC. Coal production and usage demonstrates a hypersensitivity to economic changes.

China is the largest coal producer in the world.[9] Northern China, especially Shanxi Province, contains most of China's easily accessible coal. Coal from southern mines tends to be higher in sulfur and ash, and therefore unsuitable for many applications.[9]

Year Coal Production
(Billion short tons)
2000 1.00
2001 1.11
2002 1.42
2003 1.61
2004 2.00
2005 2.19
2006 2.38
2007 2.62
2008 2.72
2009 2.96

Demand for coal in China continues to increase, and it is estimated that it will be around 3.06 billion tons in 2010. Furthermore, it is expected that demand will soon exceed production due to factors such as a government crackdown on mines that are unsafe, polluting, or wasteful. Some were shut down for the 2008 Summer Olympics.[10]

On July 6, 2008 in central and northern China, 2.5% of the nation's coal plants (58 units or 14,020 MW of capacity) had to shut down due to coal shortages. This forced local governments to limit electricity consumption and issue blackout warnings. The shortage is somewhat attributed to the closing of small dangerous coal mines.[11]

Inner Mongolia

A coal mine near Hailar.

China's largest open-pit coal mine is located in Haerwusu in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It started production on 20 October 2008, and is operated by Shenhua Group. Its estimated coal output was forecast at 7 million tonnes in the fourth quarter of 2008. With a designed annual capacity of 20 million tonnes of crude coal, it will operate for approximately 79 years. Its coal reserves total about 1.73 billion tonnes. It is rich in low-sulfur steam coal.[12] Mines in Inner Mongolia are rapidly expanding production, with 637 million tons produced in 2009. Transport of coal from this region to seaports on China's coast has overloaded highways such as China National Highway 110 resulting in chronic traffic jams and delays.[13]

Coal consumption

China's coal consumption in 2010 was 3.2 billion metric tonnes per annum. The National Development and Reform Commission, which determines the energy policy of China, aims to keep China's coal consumption below 3.8 billion metric tonnes per annum.

With investment in the coal industry rising at an annual rate of 50 percent in recent years, China will retain its current position as the leading global consumer of coal, even as it endeavors to diversify.

During the first three quarters of 2009 China's coal consumption increased 9% from 2008 to 2.01 billion metric tons.[14]

The consumption of coal is largely in power production, aside from this, there is a lot of industry and manufacturing use along with a comparatively very small amount of domestic use.

IEA Breakdown of coal consumption (million short tons)[15]
Use Anthracite Coking Coal Other Bituminous
Residential 0 0 71.7
Industry 24.6 16.3 342.1
Electricity Plants 0 0.2 1305.2
Heat Plants 0 0.19 153.7
Other Transformation[16] 0 359.2 84.0

Electricity generation

Coal power is distributed by the State Power Grid Corporation. China's installed coal-based electrical capacity was 484 GW, or 77% of the total electrical capacity, in 2006.[17] The dominant technology in the country is coal pulverization in lieu of the more advanced and preferred coal gasification. China's move to a more open economy in the 1990s is cited as a reason for this, where the more immediately lucrative pulverization technology was favored by businesses. There are plans in place for an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) type plant by 2010.[18] Furthermore, less than 15% of plants have desulphurization systems.[19]

Industrial use

One of the principal users is the steel industry in China.

Domestic use

Coal for domestic use being transported by use of a bike

In cities the domestic burning of coal is no longer permitted. In rural areas coal is still permitted to be used Chinese households, commonly burned raw in unvented stoves. This fills houses with high levels of toxic metals leading to bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). In addition, people eat food cooked over coal fires which contains toxic substances. Toxic substances from coal burning include arsenic, fluorine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and mercury. Health issues are caused which include severe arsenic poisoning, skeletal fluorosis (over 10 million people afflicted in China), esophageal and lung cancers, and selenium poisoning.[20]

In 2007 the use of coal and biomass (collectively referred to as solid fuels) for domestic purposes was nearly ubiquitous in rural households but declining in urban homes. At that time, estimates put the number of premature deaths due to indoor air pollution at 420,000 per year, which is even higher than due to outdoor air pollution, estimated at around 300,000 deaths per year. The specific mechanisms for death cited have been respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), weakening of the immune system, and reduction in lung function. Measured pollution levels in homes using solid fuels generally exceeded China's IAQ air quality standards. Technologies exist to improve indoor air quality, notably the instillation of a chimney and modernized bioenergy but need more support to make a larger difference.[21]

International trade

China became a net importer of coal in 2008.[22] In 2006, its exports exceeded imports by 25.1 million tons, but only by 2 million tons in 2007. This is significantly lower than the 90 million ton net exports in 2001.

  • Vietnam is the largest supplier of coal to China at 24.6 million tonnes for 2007.[22]
  • Australia exported 4.52 million tonnes in 2007.[22]

Carbon footprint

In 2001 the carbon emissions from coal use in China made up about 10% of the world total CO2 emissions at the time.[23] By 2004 this fraction rose to 14%.[24] It is believed that a continued increase in coal power in China may undermine international initiatives to decrease carbon emissions such as the Kyoto Protocol, which called for a decrease of 483 million tons by 2012. In the same time frame, it is expected that coal plants in China will have increased CO2 emissions by 1,926 million tons — over 4 times the proposed reduction.[25]

Fossil Fuel-related CO2 Emissions in China, 1998–2004 (in millions of metric tons of CO2)
  1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
CO2 from coal 2,363 2,287 2,339 2,472 2,518 2,731 3,809
CO2 from natural gas 47 51 57 64 69 72 83
CO2 from petroleum 531 566 636 653 686 737 816
Total CO2 from all fossil fuels 2,940 2,905 3,033 3,190 3,273 3,541 4,707
Source: DOE/EIA[24]

Efforts to reduce emissions

China's first coal-fired power station employing the integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), which is a coal gasification process that turns coal into a gas before burning it, is planned to begin operations in 2009 at Tianjin near Beijing. Developed under a project called GreenGen, this $5.7 bn 650 MW plant will be a joint venture between a group of state-owned enterprises and Peabody Energy.[26] In September 2011, the Chinese government's Ministry of Environmental Protection announced a new emission standard for thermal power plants, for NOx and mercury, and a tightening of SO2 and soot standards. New coal power plants have a set date of the beginning of 2012 and for old power plants by mid-2014. They must also abide by a new limit on mercury by beginning of 2015. It is estimated such measures could bring about a 70% reduction in NOx emissions from power plants. [27]

Beijing

China is considering moving the last four coal-fired power and heating plants out of Beijing's municipal area, replacing them with gas-fired stations, in an effort to improve air quality in the capital. The four plants, owned by Huaneng Power International, Datang International Power Generation Co Ltd, China Shenhua Energy and Beijing Jingneng Thermal Power Co Ltd, have a total power generating capacity of about 2.7 gigawatts (GW).[28]

Coal mine fires

It is estimated that coal mine fires in China burn about 200 million tons of coal each year. Small illegal fires are frequent in the northern region of Xinjiang. Local miners may use abandoned mines for shelter and intentionally set such fires for heat. One study estimates that this translates into 360 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which is not included in the previous emissions figures.[29]

North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has announced plans to extinguish fires in the region by 2012. Most of these fires were caused by bad mining practices combined with bad weather. 200 million yuan (29.3 million USD) has been budgeted to this effect.[30]

Accidents and deaths

In 2003, the death rate per million tons of coal mined in China was 130 times higher than in the United States, 250 times higher than in Australia (open cast mines) and 10 times higher than the Russian Federation (underground mines). However the safety figures in the major state owned coal enterprises were significantly better. Even so in 2007 China produced one third of the world's coal but had four fifths of coal fatalities.[31]

Pulmonary disease

Disability-adjusted life year for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004.[32]
  no data
  less than 110
  110–220
  220–330
  330–440
  440–550
  550–660
  660–770
  770–880
  880–990
  990–1100
  1100–1350
  more than 1350

While not directly attributable, many more deaths are resultant from dangerous emissions from coal plants. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), linked to exposure to fine particulates, SO2, and cigarette smoke among other factors, accounted for 26% of all deaths in China in 1988.[33] A report by the World Bank in cooperation with the Chinese government found that about 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year from air pollution. Later, the government asked the researchers to soften the conclusions.[34]

Many direct deaths happen in coal mining and processing. In 2007, 1,084 out of the 3,770 workers who died were from gas blasts. Small mines (comprising 90% of all mines) are known to have far higher death rates, and the government of China has banned new coal mines with a high gas danger and a capacity below 300,000 tons in an effort to reduce deaths a further 20% by 2010. The government has also vowed to close 4,000 small mines to improve industry safety.[35] A total of 2,657,230 people worked in state owned coal mines at the end of 2006.[36]

Accidents in the News

2005

  • On March 19, 2005 an explosion at the Xishui Colliery and neighboring Kangjiayao coal mines killed 72.[37]
  • On July 11, 2005 an explosion at the Shenlong mine killed 83.[37]
  • On November 27, 2005 171 miners were killed by a blast in the Dongfeng Coal mine in Qitaihe city, Heilongjiang province. The mine owner (plus 5 others) was later tried in court for negligence and sentenced to 6 years in prison.[38]
  • On December 8, 2005, a gas explosion kills 54 miners and traps 22 in the Liuguantun Mine, Tangshan Kaiping district.[39]

2006

  • On February 1, 2006 the Sihe coal mine in Shanxi killed 23 miners.[37]
  • On May 18, 2006 an Induation disaster at the Xinjing coal mine in the Shanxi providence killed 56 miners.[37]
  • On April 29, 2006, 27 miners were killed in an explosion in the privately owned Wayaobao mine in Shaanxi province. Fires, floods and explosions claim about 5,000 deaths every year in Chinese coal mines.[40]
  • On July 15, 2006 at the Linjiazhuang coal mine in Shanxi an explosion killed 50 people with seven more missing.[37]
  • On November 5, 2006 at the Jiaojiazhai coal mine in Shanxi an explosion killed 40 with seven more missing.[37]

2007

  • In March 2007, over 100 were killed in 8 tragedies.[41]
  • In August 2007, 181 miners died when heavy rains flooded two mines in eastern Shandong province.[42]
  • A coal mine gas leak on November 11, 2007 had at least 35 confirmed deaths.[43]
  • On December 6, 2007, 105 workers died in a mine blast in Shanxi province's Hongtong county.[6]

2008

  • On April 11, 2008, a gas explosion resulted in 14 miners dead and two reported missing in the No. 3 Coal Mine in Huludao's Shaguotan village.[44]
  • On September 4, 2008, twenty-four miners were killed and six injured in Fuxin, Liaoning province.[45]
  • On September 28, 2008, 31 miners were killed and nine were missing in Dengfeng city, Henan province.[46]
  • On November 10, 2008, four were killed and thirteen injured Wannian Coal Mine of Jizhong Energy Group Co., Ltd. in Handan City, Hebei Province.[47]

3,000 workers were killed in Chinese coal mines during 2008.[48]

2009

  • On February 22, 77 miners died and over 100 were injured in an explosion at the Tunlan coal mine in Shanxi.[49] The blast was China's worst industrial accident in a year, until the November, 2009,[50] Heilongjiang mine explosion.
  • On March 20, six miners were killed and four were missing at the Lianfa Coal Mine in Qinglong County, Qianxinan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou province[51]
  • On April 4, twelve miners died in the Jinli Coal Mine in Xingnong Township, Jidong County, Jixi City after water flowed in from an abandoned coal mine.[52]
  • On April 17, eighteen miners die in a dynamite explosion in a dynamite warehouse of a coal mine in Chenzhou city, Yongxing.[53]
  • On May 2, seven people died of gas poisoning at the Xinfeng Coal Mine, Dengfeng city [54]
  • On May 15, ten miners die in a mine blast in a licensed private Chashan Coal Mine in Zhaotong city, in Zhenxiong county, Yunnan province.[55]
  • On May 16, eleven miners die of asphyxiation in Shuozhou, Shaanxi province.[56]
  • On May 29, a gas explosion at the Tonghua coal mine associated with the Songzao Mining Bureau of Chongqing in Chongqing kills 30 and injures 59.[48]
  • On November 21, 104 people were reported dead and 4 others trapped underground at the Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province. China Central Television reported the news, and said that the cause was a gas explosion. The mine is run by one of China's top 520 state-owned enterprises, according to the Web site of its owner, the Hegang branch of the Heilongjiang Longmei Holding Mining Group. It says the Hegang branch has more than 88,000 employees. The mine is located near the border with Russia, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of the provincial capital, Harbin.[50] The reported death toll climbed near 90 by the next day.[57][58]

2010

  • In January, at least 25 people are killed and at least three others are trapped in a mine fire in Xiangtan County in Hunan.[59]
  • On March 29, 153 people were trapped in a coal mine by a flood that occurred by breaking into a water-filled shaft in the Wangjialing coal mine in Shanxi.[60]
  • On May 13, at least 21 people were killed and at least five were wounded when an explosion occurred at the privately run Yuanyang colliery in Puding County, Anshun, Guizhou.[61]

The government has been cracking down on unregulated mining operations, which account for almost 80 percent of the country's 16,000 mines. The closure of about 1,000 dangerous small mines last year helped to cut in half the average number of miners killed, to about six a day, in the first six months of this year, the government has said. Major gas explosions in coal mines remain a problem, though the number of accidents and deaths have gradually declined year by year, the chief of the State Administration of Work Safety, Luo Lin, told a national conference in September.[50]

In the first nine months of 2009, China's coal mines had 11 major accidents with 303 deaths, with gas explosions the leading cause, according to the central government. Most accidents are blamed on failures to follow safety rules, including a lack of required ventilation or fire control equipment.[50]

Unofficial estimates often estimate death tolls at twice the official number reported by the government.[62] Since 1949 over 250,000 coal mining deaths have been recorded.[7] However, since 2002, the death toll gradually decreases while the coal production nearly doubles in the same period.

By year

A Chinese coal miner at the Jin Hua Gong Mine
Year Number of accidents Deaths Death rate per
million tons of coal
2000 2,863 5,798 5.80
2001 3,082 5,670 5.11
2002 4,344 6,995 4.93
2003 4,143 6,434 4.00
2004 3,639 6,027 3.01
2005 3,341 5,986 2.73
2006 2,945 4,746 1.99
2007 3,770 1.44
2008 3,210 1.18
2009 1,616 2,631 0.89

Source: State Administration of Work Safety[63]

International opinions

In October 2008, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and The Energy Foundation published The True Cost of Coal, a report that said that by-products of coal burning such as water pollution, air pollution and human costs such as mining deaths are costing China an additional 1.7 trillion yuan per year, or more than 7% of GDP. They recommended that China increase the price of coal by a tax of 23% to reflect the true costs of China's reliance on coal.[64]

Other commentators have pointed out that China has been taking a role as a leader in making use of coal as an electricity source more clean and responsible. For instance, the country built new ultra-supercritical coal plants (~44% efficiency) before the United States[65]. While the average efficiency of the coal fleet in China remains less than that of the US, the gap is quickly closing. China has required companies building new plants to retire an old plant for every new one built.[66]

See also

Other countries

References

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