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The Coal disillusion in Asia

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By: Farzana Yasmin

Asia plays a significant role in world’s economy as the region comprised emerging economies like China, India, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia etc. Energy security is an important prerequisite to ensure steady economic growth in any country. Despite the promises made at Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions and turn to a clean energy future; south-east Asian countries were on track to build hundreds more coal-fired power plants in the next 20 years. These Coal-fired power plants are a key source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Just in a span of last ten years, the number of coal operating plants in the world has rise from 89,926 (2006) to 958,662(till July 2017). Out of this total, 818,052 are only in China and India. Rest of 140,610 is from outside India and China. In this era, there has been a steady increase in the number of coal operating plants till 2016. Top ten largest coal fired power plants of the world are in Asia except one in Poland. And out of these ten, five are only in China, three in South Korea and one is in Taiwan, according to source watch organization.

Asia’s energy transition phase started in 2015 onwards.  In 2016, the proportion of coal in China’s energy mix was 62% as compared to 75% in 1978. The countries are moving forward to adopt clean and environment friendly energy sources LIKE Solar, Wind, hydro and gas. Global supplies of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) are set to expand almost 50 per cent between 2015 and 2020.


China’s share of coal fired power generation is seen falling to 61% by 2020 from current 72%. According to the news agency china, the country has already announced that it will stop any further construction of new coal power plants in its 29 out 32 provinces. 104 planned and under-construction coal power projects – with a total capacity of 120GW – have been suspended according to The National Energy Administration. Though there is a debate that the reason of these steps is to deal with the local air pollution problems especially in the Beijing that will also reduce China’s emissions in the long-term. China will replace the coal with a comparatively clean fuel LNG, purchased by US.  The trade deal between two countries was announced in May 2017.


 India is quite near to become Clean Energy Leader. In 2015, India announced an ambitious goal of to increasing renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, with 100 GW of solar, 60 GW of wind, 10 GW of bioenergy and 5 GW of small hydro. The country has its year on year targets to meet goal 2022. India was the 4th largest energy consumer of the world in 2011. The country has fifth largest coal reserves and power sector was big consumer of it. India’s two-third, from total power generation capacity is dependent on coal fired power plant. The country is steadfast to get 56% of its installed power capacity from renewable energy resources, by the end of 2026-27. India’s coal imports also an important indicator to determine the energy generation trends. Sources say that Indian coal imports declined to by 21.7% in January, down to 14.31 million tonnes. heavy water reactors (PHWRs), and manufacturing the solar Panels locally is a significant development.

South Korea

South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest thermal coal importer and has the sixth-biggest fleet of nuclear reactors. The country generates two-thirds of its electricity from thermal coal-fired power plants and nuclear reactors. Coal fired power plants are posing serious health hazards in big cities such as Seoul caused by air pollution from burning of coal. Besides after Fukushima disaster in Japan and the worst earthquake last year in South Korea, there is a nationwide serious concern on the energy generation resources. The new government, however, has committed to stop the construction of new coal and nuclear plants and take serious actions in policy making to tackle theses environmental issues and to manage the natural disaster in the country.

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Following the trend of global energy transition towards cleaner fuels, the country is now moving towards clean energy options that are shift from coal and nuclear towards Liquefied Natural Gas LNG imported from Qatar for power generation. It is therefore expected that the LNG demand will grow 2.2%, on contrary to earlier estimate 1.5% by 2040.


Indonesia is the world’s largest steam coal exporter and supplies half of Asia’s steam coal imports. Coal has become increasingly important to Indonesia’s economy and power generation mix and became the world’s eighth largest consumer in 2014.The Indonesian government launched a fast-track program in 2015 aiming to add 35 GW of power capacity by 2019.Indonesian coal exports will be reduced by rising domestic demand, Coal demand by the power sector is expected to increase more gradually resulting the 35,000 MW program to be extended after 2019.

The majority of renewable investment is expected to come from biomass and hydro with onshore wind and solar PV expected to account for 21% and 23% respectively in the energy mix till 2025 as compared to 5 % in 2015 by minimizing the share of oil.


 Coal sector revival in Vietnam to produce cheap electricity poses a serious threat to its environment and public health. According to the World Bank, Vietnam would be one of the five countries that are worst affected by Climate change and these affects are already   getting   prominent in agriculture and on environment. Vietnamese government has recently set to approve investment licenses for three coal fired plants (3,720 MW), worth a combined $7.5bn.  Vietnam, annual power consumption is about 162 billion kWh. The country  will meet its growing energy demand growth (11%) by relying on coal power and hydropower. Its National Power Development Master plan for 2011-20 has already made it clear that thermal power would be the main part of its energy mix.

Currently, Vietnam has up to 20 coal-fired plants and plans to increase their number to 32 by 2020 and to 51 by 2030. This means by 2020 the country’s coal plants would be producing 49% of its electricity output by burning 63 million tonnes of coal. This would further go up to 129 million tonnes of coal by the time it has all its 51 plants in operation.


Taiwanese energy sector is expected to undergo a significant transformation by reducing coal and nuclear power. Government plans to make Taiwan nuclear free by 2025 and is expected to see significant investment in new renewable capacity over the next 20 years. Domestic thermal power generation has been the dominant source of electricity in Taiwan. Coal-fired plants generated 121.27 TWh, accounting for 48.1% of total output, followed by 69.52 TWh (27.6%) from gas-fired plants, 41.64 TWh (16.5%) from nuclear power plants, 10.8 TWh (4.3%) from renewable energy, 5.94 TWh (2.4%) from oil-fired plants and 3.19 TWh (1.3%) from pumped-storage hydroelectric. (Bureau of Energy, 2014b)

Philippine is already using geothermal and hydro as green energy sources. Government is planning to do future investment in solar PV and onshore wind projects. Similarly Thailand is committed to increase in renewable energy in nation’s power generation mix from 15% to a range between 30% and 40% by 2036 by solar PV and wind .

There is a dire need to introduce broader range of low-carbon technology solutions and to further encourage the development renewable energy technologies to make them viable. In addition to the developing   countries’ energy resources, efforts must be put to introduce and adopt energy efficient   buildings and transport. This can be achieved by the introduction of creating enabling environment for regulations for energy efficiency and also creating some sort of economic enabling environment including Carbon pricing.

The writer is an environmentalist  expert  in Islamabad base.


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