Guess How Many Coal Workers China Retrained?

Renewables = New Jobs in China

China has retrained an extraordinary number of coal workers to work in the renewables sector. Wind turbines in China. Photo by Envision, Inc.

10,000? 50,000? 100,000? How about 530,000! And that extraordinary effort occurred in 2016 alone, according to a new report by China Coal Research Institute. Fuqiang Wang, senior advisor on climate and energy at NRDC Beijing, is part of the report’s expert team.

Most of the Chinese coal workers were retrained with jobs in the renewable energy sector and the effort is going. “New jobs in the renewable sector are at least twice higher than the jobs lost in the coal sector,” Wang told the Alliance.

According to the latest stats, the renewable energy sector in China employed 3.64 million in 2017. In the U.S., renewables accounted for 777,000 jobs. In both countries, jobs renewables are booming. “Explosive” is how an article in Inside Climate News characterized employment in renewables in the U.S. in recent years.

The number of coal miners in the U.S. now totals around 53,000, down from a high of about 90,000 in 2012, according to the latest figures from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. could take a cue from China on retraining their coal workers, all 530,000 of them.

China’s Coal at Home and Now Abroad

In China, what are the risks of a rise of 1.5 degree C and how can low carbon solutions be accelerated? These will be the key issues of a day-long conference on May 30 in Beijing. NRDC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, is organizing the meeting. Top Chinese government and academic researchers are among the speakers.

In the past, China was said to have built a coal-fired power plant every day. But those days are over. Last year, China built 25 GW of new coal-fired power capacity. That’s half of what it used to be. China’s coal production inched up by 0.4 percent last year. Demand for energy was strong mainly because the economy improved and exports boomed, according to a China energy expert in an interview earlier this month in Beijing. Among the big problems that remain is the widespread use of distributed coal.

How can China cut its coal use? China is now the world leader in installed capacity of solar and wind energy and has plans to install even more. But curtailment is still a big problem. Solving curtailment would mean China’s coal use would actually decrease, the expert said.

China has been enormously successful in implementing energy efficiency measures. By saving energy, China has slashed its energy demand by 10 to 15 percent. With such success, it will be harder in the future for China to find ways to improve energy efficiency,  the expert said.

Meanwhile, a major concern now is to what degree China is incorporating sustainability in its construction of huge infrastructure projects overseas as part of its One Belt One Road initiative, now in its fifth year. Chinese sponsored projects account for most of the new coal fired power plants being built overseas, according to an article in the New York Times last year. A policy researcher at a Chinese research institute in Beijing said in an interview that his group is working to integrate renewables into the OBOR initiative. Without these and other sustainable measures, China’s infrastructure projects overseas will undercut the gains domestically in cutting carbon emissions.