China’s low-carbon goals should not come at the expense of energy and food security or the “normal life” of ordinary people, according to its president, Xi Jinping, signaling a cautious approach to the Paris agreement and COP26 pledges to reduce emissions. China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. It sees pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as a risk to jobs and economic growth, something they have prioritized. Xi was quoted as saying, “Reducing emissions is not about reducing productivity, and it is not about not emitting at all, either.” Xi also said, “We must stick to the overall planning and ensure energy security, industrial supply chain security and food security at the same time as cutting carbon emissions.” These are words of wisdom that the Biden administration needs to emulate since Biden’s anti-oil and gas policies are escalating gasoline and heating costs for millions of Americans that can least afford those increases.
Coal Production and Generation
To that end, China has started up the first of four 1,000-megawatt units at a new coal-fired power plant in a northwestern region of Inner Mongolia in late December. The facility is the largest coal-fired power plant currently being built in China. Shanghaimiao is sited in an area with significant coal reserves and will eventually send power to Shandong province via a long-distance, ultra-high voltage grid. According to the Chinese government, carbon dioxide reduction plans will not begin in China until after 2025. The country plans to add significant coal-fired generation capacity in the meantime—plants that last 40 to 60 years or more, and are cleaner than coal plants in the United States. The country’s increased demand for electricity could bring development of up to 150 gigawatts of new generation capacity by year-end 2025, putting China’s known coal-fired generation capacity at 1,230 gigawatts—about 6 times the U.S. coal-fired generating capacity. China already accounts for over half of all global coal-fired electricity output.
In line with building more coal-fired power plants, China increased its coal production. China’s coal production reached record levels in 2021 as the state encouraged miners to ramp up their output to secure sufficient energy supplies through the winter. Areas across China had suffered blackouts and brownouts earlier in 2021 due in part to a lack of wind power and a shortfall in the coal supply, which increased coal prices. China, the world’s largest coal producer and consumer, mined 384.67 million metric tons in December, topping its previous record of 370.84 million metric tons set in November. Chinese coal production climbed to an all-time high of 4.07 billion metric tons, up 4.7 percent from the previous year. By comparison, the United States produced 525 million metric tons.
But, China also sees the need for diversity of supply. In December, China brought into operation the world’s first nuclear power plant that contains a pebble bed reactor —the fourth generation of high-temperature gas reactor—in East China’s Shandong Province. The reactor core is formed from graphite pebbles that contain specially designed fuel particles, which allows reactors to be run safely at higher temperatures. The technology is the safest type of nuclear reactor to date as the reactor will not melt when placed under duress and there is no risk of radiation leaks. Very few countries have mastered high temperature gas reactor technology, and China’s launch marks the country consolidating its role as a world leader in nuclear power. Almost all (93.4 percent) of the material used in the plant was domestically sourced in China. The unit has total generation capacity of around 200 megawatts. A second reactor is scheduled to go into full operation next year following tests.
The 200-megawatt small modular reactor is roughly a fifth of the size of China’s first proprietary reactor design, Hualong One, and allows for greater scalability as well as reduced operations and deployment costs. China’s nuclear capacity totaled 51 gigawatts at the end of last year, falling short of a 58 gigawatt target. China National Nuclear Corporation has urged the government to approve at least six new projects a year over the next decade in order to bring total capacity up to 180 gigawatts by 2035. China is the world’s largest investor in nuclear power, paying up to $440 billion towards building new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years, which will allow it to overtake the United States as the world’s top generator of nuclear electricity. The country is also investing heavily in nuclear fusion.
China also reached a record in refining last year with oil processing rates rising by 4 percent over 2020 to 14.13 million barrels daily. This year will likely see further increases in the amount of oil Chinese refineries process as two new facilities will come on stream—one with a capacity of 320,000 barrels per day and the other with a capacity to process 400,000 barrels per day. The record was reached by the state-owned majors, who compensated for the lower production from independent teapots as Beijing instituted a tax on dirtier feedstocks.
China’s oil imports in 2021 fell by 5.4 percent as China stocked up in 2020 when oil was the cheapest in years. Total 2021 oil imports in China were 512.98 million tons (about 10.3 million barrels per day)—down from 542.39 million tons during 2020. China’s 2021 oil import decline was the first in two decades. China has been the biggest oil importer in the world for seven years. Since then the country has accounted for as much as 44 percent of the global oil import growth. Over the same period, the annual growth in import rates for China averaged 10 percent.
China’s President Xi said the nation’s carbon goals should not clash with other priorities, which include securing adequate supplies of food, energy and materials “to ensure the normal life of the masses.” In this light, China is building coal-fired and nuclear power plants and refineries as well as increasing its processing rates at refineries and its domestic coal production. President Biden, in contrast, is not allowing coal-fired power plants to be built in the United States, is seeing nuclear power as too expensive due to onerous regulations, and is rejoicing as many U.S. refineries retool to produce renewable fuels. His administration’s anti-energy policies such as closing lands to leasing and banning pipelines are hurting U.S. consumers as gasoline prices are up over a dollar a gallon since he took office, oil prices are above $90 a barrel, and energy prices for heating are much higher this winter. What does it take for Biden to come to his senses and realize that President Trump had the right energy policy—an energy dominant America?
Currently, U.S. leaders talk about an “all of the above” energy policy, which in fact translates into “nothing from below the ground.” China is using all its resources to amplify human strength and grow its economy for its people. The gap between the two economies is shrinking as China pursues the energy necessary for growth. The United States is currently napping, and the signs are becoming evident everywhere.