China started up the first of four 1,000-megawatt units at a new coal-fired power plant in the northwestern region of Inner Mongolia, which is larger than any coal-fired unit in the United States, in late December. While Chinese residents are reaping the benefits of low cost coal power, residents of Kosovo are enduring rolling blackouts because the World Bank denied a coal-fired plant in 2018 to be built there, supposedly because renewable energy was cheaper. Of course, the cost of necessary back-up power to intermittent wind and solar power was not factored in to the World Bank’s decision. It is the height of hypocrisy that current European and U.S. leaders will allow China and other countries in Asia to build coal-fired power plants, but European countries cannot, putting them in growing energy poverty. Soon, prosperous countries will be driven into third world conditions as the lack of energy and its escalating prices put more people in poverty. In the UK, it is estimated that 6 million residents will be in energy poverty, up from 4 million, once the country ups its energy bill cap in April.
Kosovo’s Energy Crisis
Kosovo had to introduce two-hour blackouts for most of its 2 million people on Wednesday, December 22, 2021, after a unit at their main coal power plant malfunctioned, dropping the country’s local power production to less than a third of consumption and forcing them to import electricity at extremely high prices, and as neighboring Serbia had cut electricity to some consumers two weeks previously. Blackouts were originally announced to last for 24 hours but were extended. According to the plan, rolling blackouts would continue to last about 2 hours for each group of customers at different times of the day.
Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with almost a third of the population living below the poverty line and one in 10 people living in extreme poverty. Many of its citizens burn firewood and coal for heating and cooking. The average per capita income there is about one-tenth that of the European Union. Kosovo also has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at about 33 percent and unemployment for youth aged 15 to 24 years is about 60 percent. In order to boost employment, increase growth, reduce poverty, and improve people’s lives, Kosovo needs affordable and reliable energy.
Kosovo’s electricity supply options are constrained due to modest availability of renewable resources, ageing and unreliable lignite-fired generation plants, supply shortages in neighboring countries, which limits Kosovo’s ability to import electricity, and an absence of any natural gas resources or infrastructure to import gas. In recent years, demand for electricity has exceeded supply – a problem that is expected to worsen with the decommissioning of one of the major lignite plants, which provides about one-third of local electricity generation.
The Government of Kosovo has prioritized the modernization and improvement of the country’s energy sector, and asked its development partners, including the World Bank, European Commission, KfW, USAID, and other donors, for support and assistance.
Five Asian countries are investing in 80 percent of the world’s planned new coal plants. China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam plan to build more than 600 coal power units (300 gigawatts). The added capacity is three times the electrical power that is needed in the U.K.
Areas across China suffered blackouts and brownouts earlier this year during a cold spell and a shortfall in coal supply when China limited coal imports from Australia due to their dispute over the origins of the coronavirus. The shortfall sent coal prices higher, reducing utility profits as electricity prices are regulated in China and forcing utilities to do less upgrading and retrofitting to improve efficiency and lower emissions. Since 2007, 294 gigawatts of old coal-fired power capacity have been phased out in China, being replaced by state-of-the-art coal capacity. According to researchers at China’s State Grid Corp., the need to satisfy increased demand for electricity could add up to 150 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation capacity by year-end 2025. That would put China’s known coal-fired generation capacity at about 1,230 gigawatts–more than half of all global coal-fired electricity output and over 5 times the coal-fired capacity in the United States.
The new operational coal unit, Unit 1 of the Shanghaimiao plant, was put online after a 168-hour testing period on December 28. The facility is the largest coal-fired power plant of its kind currently being built in China. The plant’s technology is supposedly the world’s most efficient, with the lowest rates of coal and water consumption. Shanghaimiao is sited in an area with significant coal reserves and will export power to Shandong province via a long-distance, ultra-high voltage grid. According to the International Energy Agency, China is responsible for more than half of global coal-fired power generation, which is expected to increase by 9 percent in 2021.
While Asia continues to invest in coal plants, providing reliable power for their citizens, countries across the developed world are accelerating plans to phase coal out and denying new state-of-the-art coal plants to be built. European countries like Kosovo are being denied the funds to build modern coal-fired plants, and are suffering from blackouts and escalating energy prices. That hurts the residents of Kosovo and continues to keep them in energy poverty. Given that the energy crisis in Europe is making energy prices skyrocket, one would think that Europe could benefit from keeping their tried and true plants on line longer to support lower prices and adequate power. But European leaders are continuing with the phase out of coal power. The U.K., for example, upped its time table to decommission its coal plants by 2024. The Biden Administration also plans to phase out coal, in line with the COP26 agreement.
China is building more and more low cost coal plants to fire the industries that are being offshored from western countries, including much of the renewable energy manufacturing that those country’s governments are increasingly requiring to be built. It is difficult to see how this will ultimately benefit the citizens of the western nations.