Photo courtesy of Gustavo Madico via Flickr.

Despite Leaps In Sustainable Energy China Is World’s Top Coal Burner

China is doubling its wind power capacity by 2020 – but it’s also increasing the production of new coal mines six-fold.

China is currently the world’s largest energy consumer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and even as its economy slows down, it’s still projected to be consuming twice as much energy as the U.S. by 2040.

To sate this appetite, Chinese electricity producers are turning to every energy source available.

The country is currently the world’s largest producer of wind power, according to the BBC. Its current capacity is 75 gigawatts (GW) – compared to 90 GW in the entire E.U. – and it aims to more than double that number to 200 GW by 2020.

In fact, a series of renewable-energy superlatives apply to China, according to the University of Oxford:

  • It will soon be largest solar power user in the world

  • It has the largest fleet of electric vehicles (mostly two-wheeled)

  • It’s also got the world’s largest nuclear energy development program

Still, wind and other sustainable energy sources only count for a fraction of China’s energy production (numbers from 2009, the latest available):


Image courtesy of the EIA website.

Even this chart only shows total capacity; production of wind and hydro power is not running at full capacity, leaving coal to pick up the slack, according to the EIA.

Smog over Beijing

China is, in other words, still extremely reliant on coal, despite promises from officials to cut down consumption.

In 2012, the country consumed 3.8 billion tons of coal – almost as much as the entire rest of the world, the EIA reports.


Image courtesy of the EIA website.

The well-documented pollution and smog this coal produces leads to more than a million premature deaths per year and costs the country more than $100 billion  in health-related welfare costs yearly.

It also contributes significantly towards global warming.

China has a goal to produce at least 15% of its total energy output using renewable fuels by 2020, replacing coal power, though with the new accord between the U.S. and China, that percentage will likely increase.

It’s encouraging energy efficiency by shutting down inefficient small or medium-sized coal power plants.

However, the EIA still projects that overall coal consumption in China (and globally) will increase every year until 2040, in step with increasing energy demand.


Image courtesy of the EIA website.

In other words, if China’s energy trends continue, by 2040 their coal producing capacity will have almost doubled.


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