Phasing Out Coal Power in China


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Today, we’re looking at the issue of phasing out coal power in China, looking at a report issued recently by scholars at the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability and the California-China Climate Initiative at UC Berkeley.

Our guest is Dr. Ryna Cui, who is an expert in global coal transition and climate and energy policies in China. Her research focuses on climate change mitigation, and sustainable energy transition, and she is experienced in global and national integrated assessment modeling of China, India and the United States. She is a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report on the topic of global coal transition. And notably, she joined us on Podcast 84 in November 2019!

The report we're discussing today is: "A Decade of Action: A Strategic Approach to Coal Phase-Down for China."

It discusses a strategic plan to retire China's old or outdated capacity even as the country builds new coal plants. This is in line with government strategies, which posit that new coal should help meet peak loads and ensure stable electricity supplies even as clean energy should supply most incremental energy or electricity overall.

The report has three recommendations: 1. Conduct a plant-level review to identify an early retirement schedule and strategy. 2. Combine this strategy with an analysis of renewable energy, grid, storage and transmission investment to fund these investments and to replace any lost tax revenues. 3. Evaluate the job losses and their composition at the county level, and provide support for job training.

Questions we cover:

  1. How does this study build on the work we discussed two years ago, with the five criteria for prioritizing retirements?
  2. How do carbon prices and water come into the calculation?
  3. How do you quantify/assess the benefits of the retirements, especially those related to human health?
  4. How are the retirements distributed across provinces?
  5. Are flexibility retrofits really necessary and economical?
  6. Are you assuming that provinces will do a lot more trading of electricity?
  7. How do you think the present push for energy security will affect coal plant retirements?
  8. What types of jobs are lost when coal plants retire? What types of jobs would they qualify for retraining on? Or do they mostly end up taking buy-outs and just moving to completely different industries?
  9. Do coal industry workers generally move in search of new work?
  10. What’s new in the latest IPCC chapter you co-authored on energy systems?

For further reading:

Ryna Cui et al., “A Decade of Action: A Strategic Approach to Coal Phase-Down for China,” Center for Global Sustainability, 2022, at

Jiang Lin et al., “Large balancing areas and dispersed renewable investment enhance grid flexibility in a renewable-dominant power system in China,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, February 2022, DOI:10.1016/j.isci.2022.103749, at

IPCC AR6 Chapter 6 (Energy Systems):

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