China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

China’s Coal (Part II): Alternatives

Coal accounts for over 70% of China’ energy mix, whereas in the United States, coal is 44% of the energy mix. Below I analyze several reasons why China has such high coal requirements as a percentage of its energy supply and I attempt to explain why China’s coal requirements may remain high for a long time to come.

Just how fast are China’s coal demands rising? According to a study, “offsetting one year of recent coal demand growth of 200 million tonnes would require 107 billion cubic meters of natural gas (compared to 2007 growth of 13 BCM), 48 GW of nuclear (compared to 2007 growth of 2 GW), or 86 GW of hydropower capacity (compared to 2007 growth of 16 GW).” (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Study)

(See Part One of this series on China’s Coal and a chart comparing China’s energy use to the United States’ Here).

China has trouble diversifying energy supply sources because it lacks significant natural gas supplies, it is starting from a very low base in installed nuclear power plants, and because of other renewable energies’ technical limitations.

1. China’s Lack of Extensive Natural Gas Supplies

Natural gas provides over 20% of US energy, but China has much less natural gas reserves than are available in the US. The US has 79 trillion cubic meters estimated natural gas reserves, whereas China has 22 trillion cubic meters. (EIA). Natural gas only accounts for 3.5% of China’s total energy supply and it is unlikely that Chinese natural gas utilization will increase to anywhere near the levels that it is used in the United States.

Natural gas generally burns cleaner than coal, so use of natural gas is desirable from both a carbon and a sulfur emission point-of-view. “[I]n 2011, China [hopes to]… raise the ratio of natural gas in its total primary energy consumption by 1 to 2 percentage points. . . . Using natural gas … as opposed to coal, could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 130 million tons a year and sulfur dioxide emissions by 1.44 million tons a year.”( China’s LNG.)

Still, much of China’s natural gas has a high sulfur content, which makes it expensive to produce in a usable, or clean form. However, unconventional gas reservoirs may increase China’s future output. Not all unconventional resources, however, are included in estimations of producible reserves (such as those given above). “[L]ow permeable gas, coal bed methane, and shale gas are each respectively estimated at 100 trillion cubic meters, 30 trillion cubic meters, and 100 trillion cubic meters.” (China Coal Resource, Sept 2009)

Even fast-increasing development of unconventional gas resources will only marginally affect coal’s dominance of China’s energy supply. A 2005 Oxford study determined that “the share of natural gas in the primary energy supply is predicted to rise no higher than 10 per cent by 2020, even in the most optimistic scenario in which natural gas use is significantly promoted.”

Realizing that its domestic resources may not be enough to guarantee sufficient natural gas supply, China has also planned natural gas pipelines to surrounding countries to import gas. China also constructed several LNG (liquid natural gas) terminals (The Guardian, Watts, 2006; see also p3 Oxford Energy Study for a map of planned LNG terminals as of 2005).

(A more in-depth study on the future of China’s natural gas industry is deferred until another article).

2. China’s Coming Nuclear Additions

Nuclear accounts for 20% of US capacity. China has plans to increase their nuclear capacity from ~1.3% of China’s current energy mix to 5% by 2020. Despite plans to construct the most nuclear plants of any country in the upcoming ten years (and subsequently demanding a great deal of uranium), China will find it difficult to quickly displace coal’s dominance of China’s energy supply.

The United States has over 104 nuclear reactors, built over a thirty-year period. Prior to 2002, China had less than three operating nuclear power plants. Today, China has 11 nuclear facilities and plans to construct at least 20 in the next 10 years. But even with a significant building program, it may not be in China’s energy security interest to rapidly increase its percentage of nuclear power. If a massive nuclear-buildout occurs, large quantities of uranium will need to be imported, and engineers will need to be rapidly trained. A more gradual increase in nuclear capacity may be in China’s best interest rather than a break-neck development speed.

3. China’s On-line Wind Capacity And Renewables

Wind and renewables have steadily increased as a percentage of China’s energy mix, rising from 0.06% of China’s energy mix to 1.3% from 2006 to 2008. Additionally, hydroelectric power capacity has grown significantly in the past three years. “In 2008, the country added 20.1 GWe of hydro capacity” (World Nuclear Ass.)

There are limits to how much any country can depend on renewables, however. Engineers I have spoken with claim that an energy grid can only handle a maximum of around 25% of its power from wind. Wind is a variable source and needs scaling units (other energy sources that can turn on when wind is not blowing) to balance wind’s output. Wind’s average capacity utilization factor is only around 31%. In comparison, Combined Cycle Gas, Nuclear, and Coal steam turbines all rated capacity factors above 40%, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Given current technology, at the most, wind could only account for about a fourth of China’s energy mix- and subsequent developments in battery storage or natural gas scaling units are required to make wind economically viable and reliable. (See China’s Dirty Wind for more on wind and scaling). (See “Capturing the Wind” by the House Research Organization for the Texas House of Representatives for an estimate of  the maximum amount of wind that can be integrated onto the grid using existing technology without radical alterations– 15GW; as of 2007 Texas already had nearly 5GW of wind online- which was only about 2% of the state’s energy supply.)

4. Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power has been met with some controversy in China. Although there are environmental concerns, property takings concerns, and rainfall has declined, hydroelectric has a lot to offer China. Over 37 GW of hydroelectric capacity was added in China between 2004 and 2007. An additional 20.1 GW of capacity was added in 2008. China’s total potential hydroelectric rating is one of the highest in the world- at 694 GW. However, only around 171.5 GW of China’s capacity is utilized. China hopes to reach 320 GW of installed hydroelectric capacity by 2020 (Huang, 1658).

Of all potential alternatives to Coal, hydroelectric power will likely remain the number two energy supply source. Hydroelectric power has also done a great deal to reduce the amount of ash, sulfur dioxide pollution, and carbon dioxide emissions.


Although China’s coal consumption is double the number two producer’s amount, China seems to have little other viable options to displace coal as an electricity source in the near term.

China is embarking on ambitious wind and nuclear development programs, and it has built pipelines for natural gas, but these programs take time to develop, and there are drawbacks to all alternative energy sources. Even massive hydroelectric expansions have resulted in environmental and land-relocation controversy (See articles on the Nu River Project and the Three Gorges Dam; specifically see the book China’s Water Warriors by Andrew Mertha).

Coal will likely continue to provide a significant portion of China’s energy for the next 20 years– simply because the alternatives are not practical enough to scale-up large enough to replace coal’s necessary position in China’s energy mix.

These next few years will bring large challenges for China’s leaders as they try to balance energy security, energy demands, resource depletion and environmental concerns. With luck, China’s leadership will use constructive and creative solutions to manage and confront these growing concerns.

Recommended Reading

The Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Government Sponsored Study of the Chinese Coal Industry (July 2009)

Andrew Mertha. China’s Water Warriors. 2008.

24 November, 2009 Posted by | China Energy, China Future | , , , , , | 2 Comments

China’s Coal (Part I)

China, Coal, and Energy: Part I

China needs and must use coal to satisfy its energy demands; at least in the near term. In fact, the entire World needs to use coal until more energy is produced using nuclear, hydro and wind…practical systems that do not generally generate large volumes of CO2. Oil, natural gas, and corn/sugar cane alcohol all produce significant amounts of CO2 in their combustion.

Given the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks and inspired by the comments section of a recent WSJ article inveighing against China’s “obsession” with coal, I concluded it might be interesting to compare America and China’s Coal use and to determine what is being done to mitigate China’s coal demand, which if unchecked- according to an article in Science, as reported in Wired- may result in “carbon dioxide emissions… reach[ing] 8 gigatons a year by 2030.” That amount of emissions would equal current total worldwide carbon pollution.

Statistics below are mostly from the US DOE (Department of Energy). World Rank is in Brackets after #. In some cases, links are to articles elsewhere (such as Reuters) for updated information.

Statistics China US
Total Energy Consumption 73.808 quadrillion BTU(’06) (#2) 99.856 quadrillion BTU (2006) (#1)
Total Electricity Consumption
2.835 trillion kWH (#2) 3.873 trillion kWH (2006) (#1)
Coal Production 2584.246 MMST (’06) (#1) 2,772.799 MMST (’07) (#1) 1,112.292  MMST (2006) (#2) 1,128.836 MMST (2007) (#2)
Coal As A % Energy Mix 70% (‘06/’09) 350GW (2006)
44.4% (2009)
Average Sulfur Content (Coal)
1.1% (Thompson) 0.8%
Average Ash Content (Coal) 17% (Attwood) 14.6%
Nuclear As A % Energy Mix 1% (‘06) 1.3% (‘07) [9.1GW] 1.1% (‘08) 20.4% (2009)
Renewables As A % Energy Mix >1.5% [9 GW] (’08) + 21.64%  Hydro [171.5 GW] (’08) ~1.0  +7% Hydro (’06)
3.6% (Sort of) + 7.1% Hydro (’09)
Natural Gas As A % Energy Mix [Consumption]
3% (‘06) 3.5% (‘07) [77.18 billion M3] (#11) 23.2% (2009)[657.2 billion M3] (#1)
Coal As A % of CO2 Production 82% 36%
Carbon Production 6,017.69 mil metric tons CO2 (’06) (#1) 5,902.75 mil metric tons CO2 (2006) (#2)

Chinese coal production is very high– twice the level of the United States’ production. All this coal production has led to carbon dioxide production, sulfur dioxide pollution, and coal ash pollution. (Detailed in the NYT’s award-winning “Choking on Growth” series).

Given the amount of coal that China produces, and the relatively higher sulfur and ash content  of some Chinese coal (MIT article | summary | Green Leap Forward’s Analysis) , the mere slight CO2 production lead that China has over the US is quite interesting– though that is likely in part due to China’s lower automotive emissions. “In [2005], coal combustion accounted for 82 percent of China’s CO2 emissions, and [only] 36 percent of America’s CO2 emissions.” (MIT, 3)

Chinese coal’s average sulfur content was about 1.1 percent, according to an article by T. Attwood in “Market opportunities for coal gasification in China” (Journal of Cleaner Production 11 (2003) 473–479.) (See also 1998 statistics of 1.1% in Thomson, 192). In contrast, “coking coals produced in the United States have … a relatively low sulfur content of approximately 0.8 percent by weight.” (EIA). In 2003, burned American coal rated a 0.93% sulfur content.

China’s coal also has a relatively high ash content- but that percentage appears to have declined over time. 60% of China’s coal used in the late 1990s had an ash content of 25-35%, and some parts of the country saw ash contents of 40-50% (Thomson, 192). In the 1990s in the US, the rate was 14.86%. Apparently China began using coal with lower ash content in the early-2000s, but the content at 17% was still higher than American ash content (Attwood).

Cleaner Coal Plants?

China’s coal plants have installed technology that allows them to reduce their amount of sulfur emissions. A surprising percentage of China’s coal generation power has been improved with cleaner-coal technologies. By the end of 2007, according to some Chinese estimates, over 270 GW of generating capacity had been installed with some form of FGD [Flue Gas Desulfurization] equipment.” (MIT)[and] “state regulations demand that all new power plants as of January 1, 2004, must be equipped with FGD systems and a series of programs have been initiated to insure retrofitting of FGD systems on older plants by the end of the decade.” (MIT).

“[E]missions levels from Chinese powerplants (sic) … “depend almost entirely on the quality of the coal they use. When they’re hit by price spikes, they buy low-grade coal.” Lower-grade coal, which produces high levels of sulfur emissions, can be obtained locally, whereas the highest-grade anthracite comes mostly from China’s northwest and must travel long distances to the plants, adding greatly to its cost. Contrary to what many outsiders believe, the Chinese state has substantially improved its ability to implement and enforce rules on technology standards. It has been slower, however, to develop such abilities for monitoring the day-to-day operations of energy producers.” (MIT Summary)

Some question whether the cleaning technologies are actually being operated effectively, and argue that “regulatory traction is partial at best. The shortfalls appear particularly serious on the operational side of power plants. That is, the systems are increasingly in place, but whether they are actually operated is another question.” (MIT)

Further Thoughts

So why does China use so much Coal rather than natural gas or nuclear– which account for 40% US energy, but both of which are negligible in China’s energy-mix, accounting for less than 7% of their energy supply?

And is there any possibility that China will increase the amount of cleaner or non-coal generating sources?

Next week, I will provide some analysis into why China needs to use so much coal and the chances that natural gas, wind, hydroelectric generation may reduce China’s Coal dependency and CO2 emissions.


* The October 2008 MIT article mentioned above analyzing China’s coal power industry is well worth the read.

20 November, 2009 Posted by | China Energy, China Environment/Health | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pipelines to Partnerships

China will build a further 150,000 km (93,000 miles) of oil and gas pipelines in the next 12 years, the official Xinhua news agency said on October 19th” (Reuters). These pipelines traveling within the country, and others which travel without carry oil, and geopolitical implications.

Below, I examine where China’s internationally-destined pipelines are going, examine the feasibility, and postulate what the pipeline developments mean for China’s future development.

Chinese Pipelines, Comparatively

China has a relatively developed system of oil and natural gas pipelines, but there is a great deal of room for improved coverage and efficiency. According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2007 China had 26,344 km of gas, and 17,240 km of oil pipelines. Comparatively, Russia in 2007 had 158,699 km of gas, and 72,347 km of oil, and the United States in 2006 had 244,620 km that carried petroleum products, and 548,665 km carrying natural gas. The United Kingdom, a much smaller country than China, had 18,980 km of gas and 4,930 km of oil pipelines.

If China’s goals are reached, in 12 years, the total length of its pipelines will reach around 193,000 km, still much less than the lines in the United States or Russia.

A great deal of China’s planned internal pipeline length will be achieved due to the construction of a West-East pipeline, pumping natural gas from Xinjiang to Guangzhou. The project will cost around $20 billion, and cover over 9,102 km.

There are great opportunities for natural gas expertise and development in China. According to Xinhua, “the country planned to raise the ratio of natural gas in its energy consumption by 2.5 percentage points to 5.3 percent by 2010.”

Overview of Expanding Chinese International Energy Pipelines
(This is by no means an exhaustive list; but it is extensive.)


Kazakhstan-China Oil Pipeline (Atasu-Alashankou pipeline)
November 2005; Expansion completed by 2009-2011.

Length: 962.2 km (600 mile) from Atasu in Kazakhstan to the Alataw Pass of Xinjiang. (Planned additional 700 km expansion to link to the Caspian Sea.)
Cost: $700-800 million shared between China and Kazakhstan.
Capacity: 5-20 million tons of oil a year.
What It Carries: “In 2005, China imported 1.3 million tons of crude oil from Kazakhstan via Alataw Pass.” (People’s Daily). By 2007, that number rose to 6 million tons (Upstream Online).
Future Developments: In August 2007, China and Kazakhstan agreed to extend the pipeline by 700 km (435 miles) westward to link it to the Caspian Sea.
(From: People’s Daily, May 25, 2006, China Daily, July 21, 2006, and Reuters, August 18, 2007.)


Turkmenistan-China Gas Pipeline (Central Asia Gas Pipeline)
(Gas shipments start in early 2010. Phase II should be complete by 2011-2012.)

Length: 10,000 km. It originates in Turkmenistan, runs through Uzbekistan, southern Kazakhstan, and then enters China (People’s Daily, September 20, 2008). Stage I of the Uzbek part will be finished by Jan. 2010. Stage II finished by Jan. 2012 (RIA Novostoi, April 2008.) The Kazakhstan section began construction in July 2008, and phase I should completed by June 2010. “The first segment of the [Kazakh section of the] pipeline will go from the Uzbek-Kazakh border to the Kazakh-China border through Shymkent, the administrative center of the South Kazakhstan region and reach China’s Horgos” (From: New Europe, July 21, 2008).

Cost: $7.31 billion. (New Europe, January 5, 2008).
Capacity: Upon its completion and full utilization in 2013, the pipeline will have an annual transmission capacity of 30-40 billion cubic meters of natural gas (People’s Daily, September 20, 2008). These supplies should last for 30 years. Initially, 4.5 billion cubic meters will be pumped annually. Completion of Kazakhstan’s “second segment (Beineu – Bozoi – Kzyl-Orda – Shymkent) will have an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic metres and a length of 1,480 kilometres” (New Europe, July 21, 2008).

Of Note: Turkmenistan sells nearly half of its natural gas to Russia, around 40 billion cubic meters a year of the 70 billion cubic meters of gas a year it produces. By constructing this pipeline toward China, Turkmenistan gains access to a source that is willing to pay more for its gas, and loosens Russia’s hold on its economy, while bringing Turkmenistan closer toward China’s sphere of influence.
Also see: Silk Road Intelligencer, July 9, 2008 and Asia Times Online, July 17, 2008 and China’s Pipeline Diplomacy.


Russia-China Gas Pipeline (Altai Gas Pipeline Project)
(2011 previous plan; 2013 is now a more likely date due to diplomatic and economic hangups between China and Russia over the price of natural gas from the pipeline and its route. If however, a 2015 goal of piping gas to South Korea is achieved, an earlier constructed Chinese spur would seem rational. (Also see the WSJ))

This on-again, off again pipeline finally seemed ready to be deployed when resource and energy prices reached stratospheric levels during Spring 2008. However energy price drops, expansion of China’s energy supplies vis-a-vis domestic and Turkmenistani projects, and a worldwide economic slowdown have resulted in Russia rethinking the deal. According to an Oct. 8, 2008 Forbes article, “Russia will delay the construction of proposed gas pipeline to China due to competition from other gas sources in the Chinese market,” such as the new Central Asia Gas Pipeline.

Cost: $14 billion.
Capacity: 30 billion cubic meters/year. (10 billion cubic meters/year in the alternative South Korea-only plan.)
(Reuters’ optimistic September 10, 2008 article on the subject.)

Note (Update 10/29/2008) Despite delays in the natural gas pipeline; the ESPO oil pipeline spur, which will cost around $800 million and deliver 300,000 b/d should be completed sometime in mid-late 2009; although as often seems to happen with Russia-related projects, disputes and delay have arisen as of mid Nov/2008. When oil prices start rising again though, the parties will likely give/take more in negotiations. That would place pipeline completion around mid-late 2010.)


Pakistan-China Gas Pipeline

This pipeline would provide China with an alternative transportation route to the easily blockaded Strait of Malacca. However, a solely Pakistani-Chinese pipeline is more of a distant future hope than any short-term reality. Given Pakistan’s unrest and general difficulties, it will be difficult to safely tap the country’s resources or make any extensive long term investments.
Information on the pipeline’s proposal is from: (Xinhua, April 30, 2007).


Iran-Pakistan-China Gas Pipeline
(Construction begins May 2009? Completion June 2014?)

This pipeline is significantly more likely to be built than a solely Pakistan-China pipeline since Iran has better developed energy infrastructure than Pakistan and can supply the needed resources. However, there is danger that the pipeline in Pakistan may suffer damage due to terrorism or internal unrest much as pipelines in Iraq have been plagued by terrorism. Originally, the pipeline was planned to go to India, but has been held up for various reasons.

Cost: $7.4+ billion.
(More information at Stratfor; February 11, 2008. AND the Tehran Times, October 20, 2008; A March 30, 2008 Heritage Foundation backgrounder on the history of the original planned 1993 Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline.)

Myanmar-Yunnan Gas Pipeline (Kyaukphyu-Kunming)
(Under negotiation and feasibility study. Plausibility of near-term development… low due to stability concerns, especially post-cyclone. Plausibility of development 2010-2012 medium to high depending on international natural gas prices and stability of the region.)

Length: 1,450 km (900 miles).

(The Guardian… as always, often alarmist, gave an early analysis of the situation in January 2008; Reuters, with an update. March 6. 2008).

UAE Oil Pipeline (Habshan-Fujairah Main Oil Pipeline)
(March 2008 Construction begun; March 2010 completion.)

Length: 360 km.
Cost: $1+ billion.
Capacity: 1.5m bpd/oil.
Notes: “In early 2007 the China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation (CPECC) signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company to build a pipeline that would bypass the Strait of Hormuz… Still, when completed, it will be a drop in a bucket compared to the 17 million bpd of crude oil that pass the Hormuz Strait today.” This pipeline is important because it helps alleviate threats that Chinese oil will be blockaded should the international diplomatic situation degrade.
(Pipeline Information from Here. and Yitzhak Shichor writing for Jamestown in September, 2008.)

Compact Analysis

Importation of foreign Natural Gas is not essential to the growth of China’s energy industry since it accounts for less than 5% of China’s energy mix, but the addition of pipelines carrying up to 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas apiece would nearly double current Chinese capacity.

In 2006, China received 69.6% of its energy from Coal, 21.1% from Oil (350M tons; 183.7M produced domestically, around 47% imported), 5.8% from Hydroelectric, 2.7% (~3% in 2007) Natural Gas (55.6B cubic meters- in 2007 this rose to 69.8B cubic meters),  0.8% (1.3 % in 2007) from Nuclear Energy (9.6 GW), and 0.4% (0.7% in 2007) from Wind (5.6 GW), and [data from: Rosen (17), and China Daily (2006) with some updating.]

China‘s natural gas output in 2005 was around 48 billion cubic meters, in 2006 it was 58.6 billion cubic meters (China Daily, October 2007), and it was 69.8B cubic meters in 2007. “The government plans to increase the figure to 80 bcm by 2010 and 120 bcm by 2020… the expected demand [is] 120 bcm per year by 2010 and [150-]200 bcm by 2020.” (China Daily, Dec 2005)

Beijing will receive a relatively large chunk of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan’s natural gas and oil, which will strengthen Beijing’s influence in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization) economic and defense grouping of Central Asian states. Beijing’s rising importance in these countries’ GDPs will lead to declines in Russian and American power, and present multiple diplomatic options for these countries.

Through its energy diplomacy and economic influence, Beijing appears to be creating a multi-polar near-term future for the Central Asia-East Asia world. A few years after the pipelines are completed at at capacity and the gas and money are flowing along the routes (perhaps as early as 2012), Beijing will become integral to these relatively small economies which may become increasingly less amenable to hosting Russian or American military bases or exercises without extremely viable compensation.

Beijing already surpasses the US in trade partner significance to several Central Asian States, trading $12 billion in 2006 (CRS, 71) with the region, compared to 2006 US trade of slightly over $2.3 billion with the region.  (Data from HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE for exports; HERE for imports)

The Central Asian states need Beijing more than Beijing needs them so it will be interesting to see what diplomatic initiatives China may enact and what diplomatic repercussions these energy shifts will have if Beijing attempts to exercise its soft power, especially as energy resources are diverted from Russia, economies become tied to China rather than Russia or US-Allies, and Iran finds a new source for its gas pipelines.

* China’s Pipeline Diplomacy. Deals with the reprecussions of China’s energy investments in the Central Asian States and what it means for their economies and ties to Russia.
* IAGS Global Energy Security.
* Iran’s Major Oil Customers.
* Kazakhstan’s Plentitude of Oil. Estimates of production of 3.5 million barrels per day (174 million tonnes) by 2020.
* Oil and Gas Industry Terrorism Monitor.
* Pipeline and Gas Journal’s October 2007 International Pipeline Report, and international trend analysis.

Also please see; Natural Gas Development, chinacomment’s prior treatment of the natural gas industry.

22 October, 2008 Posted by | China Diplomacy, China Energy, China Future | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers