Researcher Says China Shelving Coal as EV Power Source

Ye Wu, a professor in the School of Environment at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, says China is deemphasizing coal as a fuel source for electric power, turning instead to nuclear, natural gas and hydroelectric.

Roger Schreffler

December 21, 2022

4 Min Read
Han midsize sedan is flagship of BYD’s EV range.BYD

China’s decision to embrace electric vehicles was made with eyes wide open about potential environmental problems, a Chinese researcher says.

Ye Wu, speaking remotely from China at a recent Automotive Futures conference, tells attendees he’s been studying the impact of EVs on the environment for more than a decade at the government’s urging. That impact, he says, depends on whether electric-power generation is predominantly coal-based.

Ye (pictured, below left), a professor in the School of Environment at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, says the breakeven point in 2010 was 77%. More than 77% coal-based “may not be favorable for electric vehicles,” he warns.

Nevertheless, in presenting findings from his lifecycle analysis of e-mobility in the Chinese market, he reports that China has steadily deemphasized coal as a fuel source for electric-power generation, a trend he expects to continue through at least 2030.

Ye Wu Tsinghua University.jpg

Ye Wu Tsinghua University

Ye identifies three coal-dominant regions that are seeing steady growth in nuclear, natural-gas and hydroelectric power: Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei in the northeastern part of the country, Pearl River Delta in and around Guangdong province in the south and Yangtze River Delta on the eastern coast.

By region, he predicts coal’s share will fall in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei from 96% in 2010 to between 77% and 88% in 2030; in the Pearl River Delta, from 63% to between 44% and 55%, and in the Yangtze River Delta, from 83% to between 64% and 76%.

Listing other findings of his decade-long research, Ye, who is part of the Argonne National Laboratory’s cross-border emissions team, reports China’s automobile stock (car parc) grew to more than 300 million units in 2021 with ownership rising to 200 cars per 1,000 population.

“Over the next 10 years, we expect ownership to grow to 300-400 cars per 1,000 population, with stock rising to between 400 million and 500 million by 2030. That's going to be a big challenge for our environment and climate goals.”

Ye notes that since 2016, China has become the world’s largest market for battery-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles combined.

“Cumulative sales passed 10 million units at the end of June,” he says, adding EV sales in 25 cities account for 32% of the global total. Of those cities, 13 are in China, including eight of the top 10, eight in Europe, three in the U.S. and one in South Korea.

The global top-25: Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Los Angeles, Guangzhou, Stockholm, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Paris, London, Oslo, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, San Francisco, Chongqing, Stuttgart, Amsterdam, Liuzhou, Munich, New York, Changsha, Haikou, Bergen, Suzhou and Seoul.

Focusing on the battery market, Automotive Futures managing director Bruce Belzowski reports in a separate presentation that CATL and BYD accounted for 68% of battery production capacity in China in 2021, a year when combined BEV and PHEV sales grew to a record 3.5 million units.

According to Belzowski (pictured, below left), who organized the conference, CATL had 80.5 GWh of installed capacity, followed by BYD, 25.1 GWh; CALB, 9.1 GWh; Gotion High-Tech, 8.0 GWh; and LG Energy Solution, 6.2 GWh.

Bruce Belzowski.jpg

Bruce Belzowski_3

He further reports that lithium-iron phosphate batteries accounted for more than half of Chinese production in 2021: 125 GWh out of a total of 220 GWh.

Looking at the overall BEV/PHEV market – China designates the segment as New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) – Belzowski reports sales penetration of 21.6% during the first half of 2022, up from 12.7% in all of 2021 (see chart, below).

The market leader in 2022 (January through September) was BYD on combined BEV/PHEV sales of 1.2 million units, up more than 200% from 2021 levels and accounting for more than 25% of demand in the segment. Sales through September totaled 4.5 million vehicles.

BYD outpaced Tesla, which sells only BEVs, by a factor of two, according to the presentation. Tesla’s production was lower than expected because of COVID restrictions in April and May in Shanghai, where the automaker produces the Model 3 and Model Y.

While most of China’s NEV production is for the domestic market, Belzowski reports the country’s automakers exported 389,000 units between January and September, double the previous year’s total.

The top three NEV destinations, according to Belzowski, were Belgium, the U.K. and Thailand. Total China exports grew to 2.1 million units during the period, second only to Japan.

China NEV sales data 2019-2022.png

China NEV sales data 2019-2022

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