The Uneven Geography of Electricity Expansion in Inner Mongolia

Authors: Xi Wang*, University of Colorado, Boulder
Topics: Energy, China, Development
Keywords: china, electricity, inner mongolia, development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

China’s electricity sector suffers from significant overcapacity in coal-fired generation. It currently has about 900+ GW of coal plants, which makes up 75% of its generation portfolio (Yuan, 2016). Growth in national electricity demand has dropped sharply since 2010, reflecting the slowdown in the economy. But the building of new plants has continued: in the last decade, capacity has grown 11% annually (Kahrl & Wang, 2014)—equivalent to adding UK’s entire generation fleet every year. An average of two coal plants are built each week. The acuteness of coal generation overcapacity has compelled the national government to take multiple courses of action, including issuing directives throughout 2016-2017 to halt construction on new coal plants (National Energy Administration, 2017). However, overaccumulation is accompanied by devaluation, which creates localized crises (Harvey, 1982). I examine the uneven effects of overcapacity and devaluation in Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is especially suitable for understanding the highly-localized costs of electricity capital expansion, since the devaluation of its generators is among the most severe: in 2015, its coal plants averaged 1200 generation hours (People’s Daily Online, 2016)—one sixth of its potential capacity. Beyond Inner Mongolia, coal generation overcapacity threatens to foreclose a low-emissions trajectory for China, with severe consequences for climate change globally.

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