The vast majority of new coal-power plants being planned will struggle to make back their upfront costs, including all of those under construction in China, according to a new report by an independent think-tank. It is calculated that 92 percent of facilities proposed or under construction globally would cost more to build than the future cash flow they would generate, according to research from Carbon Tracker, even under a “business as usual” scenario where countries implement fewer carbon emissions restrictions and miss Paris climate accord targets.
China leads the field with plans to add 187GW of coal-power capacity to the existing supply of more than 1,000GW. India follows with 60GW in the pipeline, compared to the current capacity of 248GW. Indonesia, Vietnam, and Japan make up the remainder of the five Asian countries that are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s planned new coal plants, according to the report. Together they are set to build more than 620 new units with a capacity of more than 300GW.
The report finds that the majority of global coal operations could be replaced by renewable energy with an immediate cost saving. By 2026 almost all coal plants will cost more to run than building and running new renewable capacity. The calculations are based on falling renewable energy costs and a rise in the cost of debt. Even on a 5 percent reduction on its conservative base assumption, the report shows global coal unprofitability would almost double to 52 percent by 2030 and rise to 77 percent by 2040.
This raises the probability that the $220bn worth of coal-power plants worldwide will be among the hundreds of stranded assets that the International Energy Agency defines as those that are cheaper to shut down.
The total cost of subsidising these plants could be as high as $150bn, according to Carbon Tracker estimates, in a sector dominated by government backing.