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China’s thirst for (clean) power

Seb Kennedy's picture
Founding Editor, Energy Flux newsletter

I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

  • Member since 2020
  • 104 items added with 55,665 views
  • Dec 6, 2022

Full article can be read here. 


  • Coal burn rose 96% in Sichuan this summer, driving up thermal cooling water consumption during an acute drought

  • The water burden of this additional thermal generation equates to meeting the needs of a population of 1.2 million people

  • Much of this extra coal burn is unnecessary, and could be avoided by reforming markets and expanding transmission capacity/utilisation

Coal has for decades been the bedrock of China’s electricity system, keeping the lights on and factories humming when other sources aren’t available. But the carbon-intensive foundations of the Chinese grid are beginning to crack under the strain of climate-induced water shortages.

Coal is increasingly playing the role of swing producer in the Chinese power mix. Plants ramp up and down in response to variations in hydro, wind and solar generation, and in concert with power demand peaks and troughs. Coal’s traditional role in energy security came to the fore this summer when China endured an intense and widespread heatwave that dragged on for weeks. By some measures it was the most severe ever recorded anywhere in the world.

The prolonged heatwave triggered a severe drought that depleted reservoirs to critically low levels and curtailed hydropower generation. The hydro-dominated province of Sichuan in south-west China was particularly hard-hit, suffering blackouts and power rationing. Coal was called on to pick up the slack when demand for air conditioning spiked and hydroelectric output collapsed.

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