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This article presents findings from the MIT China Energy Group’s first-of-its-kind, independent nationwide survey of Chinese coal-fired power plants. It is well understood that developments in China’s energy sector now have global environmental implications. It is also well understood that this sector has in recent years experienced rapidly rising fuel costs. The MIT survey, by delving into technology choice, pricing, fuel sourcing, and environmental cleanup at the firm level, provides insights into how the Chinese power sector as a whole responds, and what the environmental implications are. The findings suggest rapid uptake of advanced combustion technologies across the system, largely in response to rising fuel costs. Environmental cleanup systems, particularly for sulfur dioxide, have also spread rapidly, in large part due to regulatory enforcement. Yet, operationally, plants pollute substantially. Price hikes encourage them to source low-grade fuel and idle cleanup systems. On the whole, the Chinese system infrastructurally has a proven capacity for rapid technological upgrading in the face of new market and regulatory pressures. Operationally, however, in part due to exposure to market forces, and in part due to limited state capacity for monitoring operations, even the most advanced power plants remain major polluters.


Steinfeld, Edward S., Richard K. Lester, and Edward A. Cunningham. "Greener Plants, Grayer Skies." Energy Policy 37.5 (May 2009): 1809–1824.