Polluting power: China’s top power companies ranked

Feature Story - 2009-07-28
China’s power industry, dominated by dirty coal-fired power plants, is the single biggest barrier to the country tackling climate change.

Greenpeace China unfurls a No Coal banner outside a power station in Beijing.

China's power industry must become as efficient as possible (this does not mean more plants - it means making sure what China has is as efficient as possible) and must start aggressively switching over to renewable energy.

To highlight the urgency for an energy revolution, Greenpeace released a powerful new report - the first of its kind in China - which ranks the top 10 power companies on their greenhouse polluting performance.

Read Polluting Power: Ranking China's top power companies here.

The top 10 power companies are:

Huaneng, Datang, Guodian, Huadian, CPI, Three Gorges, Yuedian, Zhejiang Provincial Energy, Shenhua and China Resources Power.

And to release the report in style, we headed to a power station in the west of Beijing and unfurled a banner emblazoned with a No Coal! symbol and with the words "Save the Climate" in Chinese.

Read our press release here.

The power sector is simply not moving fast enough on developing renewable energy.

By the end of last year, only one of those top 10 power companies had reached the mandatory 3% renewable (non-hydro) energy target.

Admittedly that target doesn't have to be reached until 2010, but eight companies in that top ten don't even look like they can reach this modest target - they're not even half way there yet.

China: the world's biggest miner and burner of coal

Those top 10 power companies burned 590 million tons of coal last year.

To be fair, only nine out of the 10 burn coal: the Three Gorges power company (ranked 10th biggest) generates mostly hydropower and therefore its carbon dioxide emissions from coal burning is zero.

These companies represent just over half of China's energy production.

Since China has not released recent greenhouse gas emissions data, we used this figure for coal burnt (source: the energy companies themselves)  to calculate how much carbon dioxide this would produce.

It came to 1.44 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

To put that in context: in 2007 the entire US energy sector emitted 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide (source: US government).

Dirty coal power stations

It's not just that there's too many coal power stations. There are also too many dirty coal power stations.

Although the country has made steps in shutting down inefficient plants -- between 2006 and earlier this year they closed a number of the least efficient plants equivalent to the total installed capacity of Australia --  and bringing in new cleaner technology, most of these top 10 power companies still produce almost more carbon dioxide per KW than most developed nations.

Our report doesn't just point out the problems, we have the solutions too.

Move away from coal!

To do this the Chinese government should bring in a price signal for coal so that its price represents the true cost.

Coal is cheap but the environmental and human health costs of using coal are enormous, not to mention their climate damaging power.

See our report The True Cost of Coal (pdf).

We also want power companies to aggressively develop their renewable energy sector.

The Chinese government has set a 15% target for renewable energy by 2020.

We know they can do better: we are asking for 30% by 2020.

China's power industry, dominated by dirty coal-fired power plants, is a major part of the challenge for the country  solving the climate change crisis.

With the Copenhagen climate summit rolling up in December, it's time something was done.

The problem is coal.

And the answer is renewable energy.

Join us

Be the first to know. Sign up for Greenpeace China updates and get invites to events and news of our research and actions.

Help us

We couldn't do any of our research or campaign work on climate change in China without the support of people like you. We do not accept money from governments nor corporations. We rely totally on the public and foundation grants.