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21 Nov 2022

CECILIA SPRINGER, YANGSIYU LU, HUA-KE (KATE) CHI - Boston University Global Development Policy Center

Understanding China’s Global Power: 2022 Update

"Understanding China’s Global Power: 2022 Update" 19 October 2022

China has financed electric power plants around the world for several decades through foreign direct investment (FDI) and loans from China’s two policy banks, the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (CHEXIM).

What is the status of China’s global power plants? In how many countries are they operating, and what are the dominant energy sources? What is the current pipeline of China’s overseas power plants, given Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s 2021 announcement to stop building new coal-fired power plants overseas and instead ramp up renewable energy support to developing countries?

The China’s Global Power (CGP) Database, updated with new data by the Boston University Global Development Policy Center, reveals new insights on the state of China’s global power amid a global push for decarbonization. A new policy brief summarizes the state of Chinese-financed overseas power plants as of September 2022, finding estimated emissions for currently operating Chinese-financed plants total 245 million tons (Mt) of CO2 per year, approximately equaling the energy-related CO2 emissions from the entire country of Spain or Thailand on an annual basis. This could cumulatively consume 1.7 percent of the global carbon budget for a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Main findings:

  • Generation capacity: China’s policy banks and companies have financed 171.6 GW of generation capacity across 1,423 power units (representing 648 power plants) in 92 countries around the world. 113.5GW is already operational, with an additional 58.1GW under construction or planning.
  • Energy sources: Coal represents the greatest share at 34 percent of the capac­ity of the overseas power units financed through Chinese investment and loans, followed by hydropower (29 percent), gas (18 percent), solar and wind combined (12 percent). Remaining energy sources like oil, nuclear, biomass, geothermal and waste constitute 7 percent combined.
    • Fossil fuel projects, particularly coal and gas, account for more than 50 percent of the oper­ational capacity and this trend is expected to continue for projects that are currently under construction.
    • However, the majority of projects that are under planning are low-carbon energy sources, including 11 GW of hydropower and 5 GW of solar and wind power.
  • Energy sources by deal type: Chinese policy banks contributed to 66 percent of coal power generation capacity and about 40 percent of hydropower plant capacity (including plants co-financed with FDI), while FDI accounts for the vast majority of Chinese overseas investment in gas-fired power plants and solar and wind projects.
    • Of the 72 Chinese companies that have participated in FDI in the power generation sector, the top ten companies are all state-owned enterprises (SOEs). They have contributed to 76 percent of the total FDI-supported capacity.
  • Regional outlook by generation capacity: Asia receives the most loans and investment in power generation capacity (90 GW), with a high concentration of fossil fuel-based power generating capacity, particularly coal-fired projects. The Americas (34 GW) and Africa (25 GW) follow.
  • Regional outlook by energy source: Hydropower is mostly distributed in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Solar and wind projects span across the globe, with the Americas the largest recipient region (6.6 GW). Chinese finance in Europe and Oceania is primarily focused on natural gas, nuclear and other non-hydro renewable energy projects.
  • Top ten recipient countries: Brazil has received the most power from Chinese financed power plants in terms of capac­ity, followed by Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Australia.
    • Of 92 countries, the top ten recipient countries represent 68 percent of the total capacity that Chinese entities have invested in and produce or will produce 82 percent of the CO2 emissions by all overseas power plants with Chinese finance.
  • Median age of power plants: The median year of commission of oil, coal and gas plants in the CGP Database is 2016, meaning that more than half of these plants are six years or less into their lifetime. Fossil-fuel based power plants typically operate for decades and the annual and cumulative lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from these plants will contribute to global climate change.
  • Outlook on added emissions: If plants currently under construction and planning come online, they will add another 82 Mt and 23 Mt to annual CO2 emissions, respectively.

Further Reading