China is making other efforts to reduce its global warming emissions. It has doubled its total wind energy capacity in each of the past four years, and is poised to pass the United States as soon as this year as the world’s largest market for wind power equipment. China is building considerably more nuclear power plants than the rest of the world combined, and these do not emit carbon dioxide after they are built.
But coal remains the cheapest energy source in China by a wide margin. China has the world’s third-largest coal reserves, after the United States and Russia.
“No matter how much renewable or nuclear is in the mix, coal will remain the dominant power source,” said Ashok Bhargava, a China energy expert at the Asian Development Bank in Manila.
Another problem is that China has finally developed the ability to build high-technology power plants only at the end of a national binge of building lower-tech coal-fired plants. Construction is now slowing because of the economic slump.
By adopting “ultra-supercritical” technology, which uses extremely hot steam to achieve the highest efficiency, and by building many identical power plants at the same time, China has cut costs dramatically through economies of scale. It now can cost a third less to build an ultra-supercritical power plant in China than to build a less efficient coal-fired plant in the United States.