China burns more coal than the rest of the world combined, and it’s come at a cost: it’s the second-biggest contributor to the smog in Beijing after cars. It fuels steel mills, along with northern China’s central heating, and many traditional homes. Last year, coal made up 66 percent of China’s energy mix. However, its coal use is falling. CCTV America’s Grace Brown reported the story from Beijing, China.
By 2020, the government wants coal to make up no more than 62 percent of the country’s energy source. One Beijing community has authorities helping families move off coal and onto electricity. In the depths of Beijing’s winter, it’s old alleyways, called ‘hutongs,’ can be freezing cold. For many, burning coal is the cheapest way to keep warm.
In 2012, families in this community switched to electricity thanks to government subsidies of up to 60 percent. That means they only pay about three cents an hour during the day and just a penny an hour at night. Along with being more affordable, electric heat is also safer than burning coal.
Earlier this year, Beijing announced plans to ban coal sales in its six main districts by 2020. That means replacing coal with clean energy like natural gas and electricity in more communities like this.
Official data shows coal accounted for 25.4 percent of the city’s energy use, in 2012, but it’s set to shrink to ten percent, by 2017 as more families quit burning coal at home.
“Most households within the second Ring Road have electric heating. This has reduced Beijing’s coal use by 280,000 tons, every year. It’s also cut our CO2 emissions by 730,000 tons a year,” Zhange Qi, the deputy manager of Beijing Power Supply Company, said.
With up to half a million people who die in China each year as a result of outdoor air pollution, moving people in its biggest city away from coal use is becoming even more urgent.