The U.S. Energy Information Administration just released data showing that China’s coal consumption grew less than 2 percent in 2012 and 2013 and then flatlined in 2014.
China's declining coal consumption has also been logged by the International Energy Agency, which reported earlier this year that carbon dioxide emissions from the global energy sector halted in 2014 -- the first time a slowdown unrelated to economic conditions occurred. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has predicted peak coal by 2020.
New figures obtained by Reuters muddy those predictions, however. Reuters found that China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a 0.06 percent increase in coal use from 2013 to 2014. That contradicts the 2.9 percent drop first reported by the Chinese government and used by IEA.
One issue is the difference between the actual amount of coal used and the energy released by that coal, noted Reuters. China has put restrictions on low-grade coal, but high-grade coal releases more carbon dioxide when it’s burned. Organizations are now waiting for more detailed data from the Chinese government.
"We are aware that there is the potential for a big revision, not only for the 2013-2014 growth rate but also for a longer time series," IEA spokesperson Greg Frost told Reuters.
Although the numbers are in dispute, coal use in China is definitely slowing. The service sector in China overtook the industrial sector in 2013 for the first time, according to the EIA, which is expected to slow coal consumption. More than 20 percent of China's coal is burned directly at industrial facilities.
And for the first time, China has set binding caps on coal consumption at 62 percent by 2020. Last year, the U.S. and China also signed non-binding targets for carbon-dioxide emissions.
Coal is not the only resource that is difficult to track in China. The country has installed a reported 35 gigawatts of solar projects, but defective panels, interconnection issues and increasing curtailment could mean far less solar is actually getting onto the grid.
Despite the issues, China has increased its solar goals in 2015 to nearly 18 gigawatts.