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China Meets Ultra-low Emissions in Advance of the 2020 Goal

Nov 05, 2019

China is working hard to reduce emissions and mitigate global climate change despite the significant challenges it faces as an emerging economy. A recent study shows the country has achieved notable success by beating its own rigorous timetable.

Scientists from the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science (AMSS) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), along with other collaborators, recently revealed that China's coal-fired power plants met ultra-low emission (ULE) standards ahead of schedule and also achieved substantial emission reductions between 2014 and 2017.

The study, entitled "Substantial emission reductions from Chinese power plants after the introduction of ultra-low emission standards" was published in Nature Energy on Oct. 7, 2019.

China has launched a fight against haze with great determination and on a grand scale. In particular, on Sept. 1, 2014, China introduced ambitious ULE standards for renovating coal-fired power generating units. The new and stringent standards for coal-fired power plants called for 580 million kW of existing installed capacity -– 71% of the total in 2014, to meet ULE standards by 2020.

The researchers found, however, that 591 million kW of pre-existing coal-fired capacity had already been renovated to meet ULE standards by the end of 2017 – i.e., 11 million kW over the original goal.

As a result, China's annual power plant emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter dropped by 65%, 60% and 72% from 2.21, 3.11 and 0.52 million tons in 2014 to 0.77, 1.26 and 0.14 million tons in 2017, respectively.

Prof. WANG Shouyang of CAS said, "The ULE standards, as an example of China’s effective environmental regulation policies, provide insights and implications for reducing power emissions worldwide. Additionally, these emission reductions can lead to an improvement in air quality and considerable health benefits."

As part of their work, the researchers identified three types of units where enhanced ULE compliance could best reduce China’s power generation emissions: 1) coal-fired units, since they represent the largest proportion of total capacity; 2) units in western China; and 3) small-capacity unitss, since they are dominated by super-polluting units.

Prof. TANG Ling of the Beijing University of Chemical Technology and Beihang University noted that China achieved its emission goals ahead of schedule due to China’s strict emission supervision system, effective economic incentive mechanisms, and the nationwide application and upgrading of ULE technology.

In reporting their results, the researchers used actual monitoring data to show that emissions were 18–92% below recent estimates. This method contrasts with most existing research, which relies on ex-ante studies to estimate how ULE standards willaffect power emissions based on assumptions about changes in emission concentrations."

With coal being the most widely used fuel in China, cutting the number of thermal power plants within a short timeframe is challenging. The results of this research are encouraging in demonstrating that coal can be used in a much cleaner way to generate electricity," said Dr. MI Zhifu from University College London.

The researchers also developed an open access platform – the China Emissions Accounts for Power plants (CEAP) – to share accurate and real-time results for each power plant. This publicly available database presents, organizes and analyzes data from China’s continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) network.

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation for Outstanding Young Scholars, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Program for Support of Top-notch Young Professionals and the National Research Program for Key Issues in Air Pollution Control.

Substantial emission reductions from Chinese power plants after the introduction of ultra-low emissions standards

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