China is building coal plants that last for 4 to 6 decades and even developing “smart coal mines.” If one believes that China is going to keep to its climate accord commitments to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, they should think again. China is playing with the Western world, making commitments they are unlikely to keep, as it attempts to become the world’s number one superpower using its natural resources and all they can acquire to their highest extent.
Besides building hundreds of coal plants, China is using the digital era to make coal mining more productive. Miners one hundred meters underground inside a pit in northern China are extracting lumps of coal with the flick of a finger on a smartphone. The Hongliulin “intelligent mine” in the Shaanxi province is a flagship facility that is an example for modernization of China’s thousands of coal mines. At the Hongliulin smart coal mine, smart cameras and 5G relay boxes crisscross the facility. Inside a control room with screens displaying numbers, graphs and images, technical managers monitor the air, temperature and other data in real-time.
China is using mine digitalization to improve safety and productivity, which enables it to generate almost 60 percent of its electricity from coal and dominate the supply chains for solar panels, electric vehicle batteries and other critical minerals needed for “green” technologies. They also dominate the world’s production of steel and cement, both energy-intensive. China’s goal is to achieve basic digitalization of all coal mines by 2035 as other countries, such as Canada, have been using digitization to improve safety and productivity at coal mines. Digitalization reduces the intensity of mining work, increasing output per shift by almost a third, benefiting China’s coal-driven electric grid. The Chinese government has approved a surge in coal power this year, green-lighting as much coal power in the first three months this year as for the entire 2021 year.
Safety is a major concern in the coal industry, where last year in China, 245 people died in 168 accidents. In February, a mine collapse in northern China killed about 50 people. At Hongliulin, data on extraction, miner location and danger detection is centralized on a system designed to eliminate problems caused by human error and miscommunication. Instead of people, robots patrol and inspect the dark and narrow underground corridors. The technology enabled the underground team to be cut by 40 percent and only essential maintenance miners descend into the pit. China’s goal is to achieve completely unmanned underground coal production. Clearly, that does not sound like a country that plans to retire its coal industry, as the United States and other Western countries are doing.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and without its honest commitment to cut greenhouse gasses rather than to grow them, what the rest of the world does is immaterial. China currently consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, and it has plans to consume even more. Right now, Western countries, pretending to believe in China’s promises to curb its greenhouse gas emissions, are cutting their emissions regardless of the cost to society in rising prices, cost of living declines and a less prosperous life. China is doing the opposite, and using their cheap coal energy to produce the green energy products the West seeks to transition from fossil energy sources.
According to official figures, China had 4,400 coal mines at the end of 2022. If China delivers on emissions pledges, those mines would be operating at minimum capacity and at a loss over coming decades. However, based on its current actions and its investment in coal power plants and smart coal mines, China is betting on coal retaining its importance in fuel supply for years to come. Huawei, the company introducing coal mine digitization to China, indicated that investment in smart mining solutions is not contradictory to its investment in clean energy. “Worldwide, coal and clean energy use will co-exist for a long time. The trend of intelligence in related industries is unstoppable.”
China is investing not only in coal power plants, building over 100 gigawatts of new capacity, but also in digitalization of its coal mines, increasing their productivity and safety. It plans to digitize all its coal mines by 2035, 5 years after its commitment to the Paris climate accord to peak its greenhouse gas emissions. That clearly indicates that it does not expect to do away with coal, as the United States and other Western countries have pledged to do, in the name of climate change. But, if the number one world’s emitter does not curb their emissions, what Western countries do will have little impact. Instead, residents of those Western countries will continue to see rising prices and a lower quality of life as energy will become short in supply and expensive while China will flourish with its cheap coal power, manufacturing “green” technologies for the West.