China & coal-fired cars

Some unusual logic in this Reuters article.

The world’s largest producer and importer of coal has 136.24 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generation under construction, according to data released in July by the Global Energy Monitor…

The large coal-fired construction programme can be seen in the wider context of China’s rapid shift to electric vehicles and away from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and trucks…

It makes sense from an economic and geopolitical perspective to power China’s vehicle fleet using domestic electricity rather than imported crude oil…

The question is then whether China can meet its climate goals by switching increasingly to NEVs, which will be powered by a coal-heavy electricity grid for decades to come.



The new generating capacity also implies a growing economy. Meanwhile we hear of major problems with real estate and a slowing economy. Probably reduced auto sales. More pressure to export.

You wonder how long this will take to resolve.

Since its the weekend, I looked at a few numbers regarding CO2 emissions from a regular ICE automobile, versus an electric car charged from a coal-fired power plant.

At a 40% plant thermal efficiency, a coal-fired power plant will emit 810 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kwh). From wikipedia, a Tesla Model Y will consume 14 kwh every 100 km (62 miles).
(810 gramCO2/kwh) x (14 kwh/62 miles) = 183 grams of CO2 per mile.

A regular gasoline powered car, getting 30 miles per gallon, will emit 293 grams of CO2 per mile.

So, an electric car that gets charged from a 100% coal powered grid will still emit less CO2 per mile than a regular ICE auto. Also, China’s power grid is about 61% coal, and maybe 35% clean sources such as hydro, other renewables, and nuclear.

From the Statistical Review of World Energy…

China fossil fuel consumption, in exajoules
Year    Oil   Nat Gas   Coal
2012   20.36    5.43   80.72
2022   28.16   13.53   88.41

Oil, natural gas and coal consumptions are all growing. Yearly CO2 emissions are going up.

Powering China’s automobile fleet from domestic coal offers more energy security than powering the fleet from imported oil. Such a system also produces less CO2 per mile than gasoline, but it still produces CO2. Given China’s population, and the new transportation capacity that could be added in the coming years, the consumption of fossil fuels of all kinds will continue to grow.

CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, million tonnes
Year   N. America  Europe  Asia-Pacific
2012      6134      4540      15,208
2022      5851      3770      17,955
Change   -4.6%      -17%       +18%

Bottom line: Electric cars emit less CO2 per mile than ICE cars. But China’s growing economy means more fossil fuel consumption of all types. If the Chinese economy stumbles because of a bursting real estate bubble, that stumble may not be permanent, and will also probably not cause the entire economy to collapse.

  • Pete

Pete, thanks for the numbers.


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China is building high efficiency coal fired power plants which get about twice as much electricity per ton of coal than their old coal fired power plants. Here is their latest high efficiency coal fired power plant:,most%20efficient%20coal-fired%20power%20plant.%20The%20state-of-the-art.

Pingshan Phase II, a cutting-edge 1.35-GW ultrasupercritical coal-fired unit, achieves a remarkable net efficiency of 49.37%—making it the world’s most efficient coal-fired power plant. The state-of-the-art plant, which commenced operations in April 2022, utilizes mature 600C materials and equipment, showcasing the transformative potential of innovation in the realm of coal power.

One of the new plants can replace two old plants and still generate the same amount of electrical power while reducing coal consumption and emissions.

Even an efficient coal-fired power plant emits a lot of CO2. At a 49.37% efficiency, a coal plant will emit 656 grams of CO2 per kwh.

(3412 / 0.4937 ) BTU/kwh x (95 kgCO2 / 1E6 BTU) = 0.656 kg/kwh

In the US, the average natural gas-fired power plant emits 407 grams of CO2 per kwh.
The new combined cycle natural gas turbine plants might get down to around 330 grams of CO2/kwh.

  • Pete

The Chinese know all the figures you posted and they are trying to meet their CO2 emissions reductions by many different routes:
Solar and wind power generation
Hydroelectric power generation,
Nuclear power generation
High efficiency natural gas power generation
High efficiency hydrogen power generation
High efficiency coal fired power generation

I wonder when US will replace their old coal fired plants. US has not built any new coal fired power plants for 10 years. US utilities want to keep burning coal with old inefficient power plants. We know that the current administration is trying to wean US from coal and the pollutants, but the coal companies, some utilities and some state/federal authorities are blocking these reductions in coal burning.

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