For the fourth year in a row, most leading indicators of coal power capacity growth declined in 2019, including construction starts, amount of capacity permitted for construction, and amount of capacity in pre-permit development, according to the Global Coal Plant Tracker.
With climate concerns dominating headlines, builders of new coal plants face an increasingly adverse business environment, including widening restrictions by over 126 globally significant banks and insurers, as well as commitments to phase out coal and accelerate a transition to clean power by 33 national and 27 subnational governments.
Despite the decline in coal plant development, the coal fleet grew in 2019 by a greater amount than in 2018. The uptick was primarily due to an increase in plants going into operation in China, the result of a permitting binge from 2014 to 2016. Outside of China, the global coal fleet overall shrank for the second year in a row as retirements exceeded commissioning. Globally, the amount of power generated from coal in 2019 declined by 3% compared to 2018, with global coal plants now operating at an average 51% of their available operating hours, a record low.
In China, the amount of capacity in pre-construction development increased for the first time since the central government began placing restrictions on new coal plant proposals and permits in 2016. The increase comes as the power industry in China continues to advocate for a capacity target in the upcoming five-year plan that would make room for up to 200 new coal-fired generating units by 2025. Meanwhile, coal power capacity additions in China continue to exceed demand, with 40% of the coal power capacity commissioned in 2019 already relegated to emergency back-up status that limits its usage, according to an analysis by Global Energy Monitor.