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Journal Article

Early transformation of the Chinese power sector to avoid additional coal lock-in


Wang,  H.
External Organizations;

Chen,  W.
External Organizations;


Bertram,  Christoph
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Malik,  Aman
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Kriegler,  Elmar
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Luderer,  Gunnar
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Després,  J.
External Organizations;

Jiang,  K.
External Organizations;

Krey,  V.
External Organizations;

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Wang, H., Chen, W., Bertram, C., Malik, A., Kriegler, E., Luderer, G., Després, J., Jiang, K., Krey, V. (2020): Early transformation of the Chinese power sector to avoid additional coal lock-in. - Environmental Research Letters, 15, 2, 024007.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_23453
Emission reduction from the coal-dominated power sector is vital for achieving China's carbon mitigation targets. Although the coal expansion has been slowed down due to the cancellation of and delay in new construction, coal-based power was responsible for over one third of China's energy-related CO2 emissions by 2018. Moreover, with a technical lifetime of over 30 years, current investment in coal-based power could hinder CO2 mitigation until 2050. Therefore, it is important to examine whether the current coal-based power planning aligns with the long-term climate targets. This paper introduces China's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) goals and an ambitious carbon budget along with global pathways well-below 2 degrees that are divided into five integrated assessment models, which are two national and three global models. We compare the models' results with bottom-up data on current capacity additions and expansion plans to examine if the NDC targets are in line with 2-degree pathways. The key findings are: 1. NDC goals alone are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in coal-based power generation. On the contrary, more plants may be built before 2030; 2. this would require an average of 187–261 TWh of annual coal-based power capacity reduction between 2030 and 2050 to achieve a 2 °C compatible trajectory, which would lead to the stranding of large-scale coal-based power plants; 3. if the reduction in coal power can be brought forward to 2020, the average annual coal-based power reduction required would be 104–155 TWh from 2020 to 2050 and the emissions could peak earlier; 4. early regulations in coal-based power would require accelerated promotion of alternatives between 2020 and 2030, with nuclear, wind and solar power expected to be the most promising alternatives. By presenting the stranding risk and viability of alternatives, we suggest that both the government and enterprises should remain cautious about making new investment in coal-based power sector.