The Udangudi thermal power plant being built in the southernmost tip of India is one of nearly 200 coal-fired power stations under construction in Asia, including 95 in China, 28 in India and 23 in Indonesia, according to data from U.S. nonprofit Global Energy Monitor (GEM). It will carry millions of tonnes of coal each year for at least 30 years to generate power for the more than 70 million people that live in India’s Tamil Nadu state.
Coal use is one of the many issues dividing industrialised and developing countries as they seek to tackle climate change. Many industrialised countries have been shutting down coal plants for years to reduce emissions. The United States alone has retired 301 plants since 2000.
But in Asia, home to 60% of the world’s population and about half of global manufacturing, coal’s use is growing rather than shrinking as rapidly developing countries seek to meet booming demand for power. More than 90% of the 195 coal plants being built around the world are in Asia, according to data from GEM.
Despite dramatic jumps in renewable energy output, the global economy remains hooked on coal for electricity. In Asia, coal’s share of the generation mix is twice the global average – especially in surging economies such as India.
This year, coal demand is set for a new record, driving prices to all-time highs and contributing to a worldwide scramble for fuel.
Record coal demand is contributing to a rapid rise in emissions in 2021 after a fall last year, when restrictions on movement for billions of people to slow the pandemic caused fuel use to plummet. While some of the new coal plants under construction will replace older, more polluting stations, together they will add to total emissions. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the new plants alone will be close to 28 billion tonnes over their 30-year lifespans, according to GEM.