Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Chinese Coal-Powered Plants Are Much Cleaner Than U.S. Plants and Better on Climate Change
Press Release

RELEASE: Chinese Coal-Powered Plants Are Much Cleaner Than U.S. Plants and Better on Climate Change

Washington, D.C. — Firsthand research conducted by the Center for American Progress shows that China’s coal industry is undergoing a massive transformation that is reducing coal consumption and making the coal-burning process more efficient. In fact, this research shows that by 2020, efficiency standards for coal-fired power plants in China will be so strict that not a single U.S. coal plant will be able to meet them.

Reports that simply count the number of coal plants in China miss what is really happening on the ground within those plants. Unlike the United States, China is on track to overdeliver on its climate commitments, and transforming the way the nation uses coal is one part of the equation. Renewable energy technologies are also critical, but with a population as large as China’s, switching over to renewable energy takes time. To bridge the gap, the country is aggressively investing in state of the art, lower-emission coal plants and quickly taking older, more polluting plants offline. The result is that China’s new coal-fired power plants are cleaner than coal plants operating in the United States, their pollution standards are stronger than ours, and China’s demand for coal-fired power is falling rapidly.

“When it comes to high-efficiency coal innovation and emissions reductions, China blows the United States out of the water,” said Melanie Hart, Senior Fellow and Director of China Policy at CAP and co-author of the issue brief. “While some U.S. politicians plot to drag our power sector back to the 1950s, China is forging ahead with revolutionary new energy technologies, including high-efficiency coal technologies. Beijing understands what the Trump administration does not: With technology innovation, a nation can reduce emissions; generate new growth industries; and create millions of new, higher-paying jobs all at the same time. In contrast, shackling a modern economy to yesterday’s energy technologies is an innovation-killing, job-killing disaster. There is a growing risk that the United States will step back from energy technology innovation to protect narrow fossil fuel interests. If so, it will be a boon to Beijing because China is angling to dominate global energy technology markets and global climate leadership as well.”

By 2020, every coal-fired plant in China must meet an efficiency standard of 310 grams of coal equivalent per kilowatt-hour. Any plant that does not meet that standard will be retired. In contrast, here in the United States, there is not a single plant that meets that standard.

“The United States has a broader array of energy options than China, including shale gas and renewables, and in recent years, investors and utilities here have shifted course toward those technologies due to their competitive prices,” said Luke Bassett, Associate Director of Domestic Energy and Climate Policy at CAP and co-author of the brief. “Lowering standards for coal-fired power in the United States would only be self-defeating and would turn the keys to the global clean energy market over to China.”

China’s investment in high-efficiency coal in tandem with new renewable energy sources shows that China is serious about being a climate leader. If the United States stumbles on its own path to high-efficiency, low-emission clean energy technologies, it will be hard to make up that lost ground in the future.

Click here to read the brief.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at or 202.481.7141.