China’s Cleaner Coal and LNG Imports

The Center for American Progress offers an upbeat report on China energy and reducing pollution in “Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China Is Wrong,” (May 15, 2017):

In December 2016, the Center for American Progress brought a group of energy experts to China to find out what is really happening…

We found that the nation’s coal sector is undergoing a massive transformation that extends from the mines to the power plants, from Ordos to Shanghai. China is indeed going green. The nation is on track to overdeliver on the emissions reduction commitments it put forward under the Paris climate agreement, and making coal cleaner is an integral part of the process.

The study emphasizes pollution from coal power: “vary dramatically based on the type of coal and coal-burning technology used.” And Chinese coal power plants are being upgraded to burn cleaner and more efficiently.

Drawing from the same Center for American Progress report “By 2020, every Chinese coal plant will be more efficient than every US coal plant,” (Vox, May 16, 2017), notes Chinese government coal:

efforts fall roughly along two paths: one, building cleaner plants, and two, cleaning up or shutting down existing dirty plants.

And cleaner still than coal is natural gas. China has limited supplies, but continues to increase LNG imports. “China’s LNG imports continue to rise,” (LNG World News, March 23, 2017) notes:

China, world’s largest energy consumer and the third-biggest LNG importer, boosted its imports of the chilled fuel in February by 28.5 percent year-on-year.

China’s LNG imports increased to 2.37 million mt in February when compared to 1.85 million mt in the same month in 2016, according to the General Administration of Customs data.

The country’s imports rose to 3.44 million mt in January, the second-highest monthly import level, behind a record 3.73 million mt set the month before as a cold snap across the country spurred demand.

Increased LNG imports have enabled a major energy advance: “Beijing shuts last coal power plant in switch to natural gas,” (, March 19, 2017):

According to Xinhua, Beijing has become the country’s first city to have all its power plants fuelled by natural gas, an objective laid out in 2013 in the capital’s five-year clean air action plan.

The U.S. is boosting LNG exports, but faces competition for the China market “Can U.S. LNG Compete With Qatar, Australia?,” (, May 18, 2017):

Whether for political or commercial reasons, Chinese counterparties are not offtakers of any U.S. LNG export project under construction. Regardless of past U.S. policy, it is now clear that Chinese buyers are welcome to sign deals with current or future U.S. LNG exporters. It also appears that concerns about the impact U.S. LNG exports would have on the domestic price of natural gas have been abated with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross indicating that officials from Dow Chemical “gave assurances that increasing exports of natural gas wouldn’t harm the U.S. industry or consumers if sales remained less than 30 percent of total output.”

China has a long way to go in replacing current coal power with hydro, solar, wind, and natural gas power sources:

Leading energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie is also bullish on Chinese LNG demand, noting, “By 2030, we expect Chinese LNG demand to reach 75 mmtpa, triple 2016 imports. This is equivalent to $26bn a year at today’s prices ($7/mmBtu), and the U.S. is keen for a slice of the pie.”

Unfortunately, even with China’s cleaner coal plants and increasing natural gas and renewable energy sources, very dirty coal plants and even home coal burning continues outside Beijing, and pollution released still drifts to Beijing skies. “Blue skies return to Beijing, but dangerous smog still blankets northern China,” (Reuters, December 22, 2016) reports that though Beijing skies cleared:

…high readings are still being recorded in other parts of northern China, including parts of the major metropolis of Tianjin which sits next to Beijing, and the province of Hebei that surrounds Beijing.

The Chinese government has long provided inexpensive heat during the country’s cold winters:

The country’s northern provinces mostly rely on the burning of hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal each year for heating.

Natural gas and electricity can be substitutes for coal in heating buildings in north China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing President Xi Jinping as saying at a government meeting on Wednesday.

An earlier post looked at; “For Still-Poor China, Coal Pollution from Home Heating,” looks at the challenge of adding higher-cost solar and wind power to the energy mix, which raises costs for home electricity. When electricity costs rise, many shift to heating their homes by burning cheaper coal “Beijing’s Plan for Cleaner Heat Leaves Villagers Cold,” (WSJ, Jan. 25, 2017) reports:

Creative Commons “Coal Delivery Bicycle” by Gwendolyn Stansbury, May 15, 2015, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reducing emissions from heating would be among the most effective ways to limit winter smog besides cleaning up industry… Coal-burning by households is particularly dirty because it often happens without the emissions filtering required in power plants. …

But Ms. Gao, whose husband earns about $500 a month at an auto plant, soon noticed a downside.

“Electric heating has become our family’s biggest expense,” Ms. Gao said. She said she may seek a job to help pay the bill.

Despite electricity subsidies for residential consumers, villagers interviewed about their state-supplied heaters said their overall costs had risen substantially. Several said it costs around $300 to heat their homes for the winter, compared with about $200 with coal.


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