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Substantial emission reductions from Chinese power plants after the introduction of ultra-low emissions standards


In 2014, China introduced an ultra-low emissions (ULE) standards policy for renovating coal-fired power-generating units to limit SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions to 35, 50 and 10 mg m−3, respectively. The ULE standard policy had ambitious levels (surpassing those of all other countries) and implementation timeline. We estimate emission reductions associated with the ULE policy by constructing a nationwide, unit-level, hourly-frequency emissions dataset using data from a continuous emissions monitoring systems network covering 96–98% of Chinese thermal power capacity during 2014–2017. We find that between 2014 and 2017 China’s annual power emissions of SO2, NOx and PM dropped by 65%, 60% and 72%, respectively. Our estimated emissions using actual monitoring data are 18–92% below other recent estimates. We detail the technologies used to meet the ULE standards and the determinants of compliance, underscoring the importance of ex post evaluation and providing insights for other countries wishing to reduce their power emissions.

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Fig. 1: Chinese power plant stacks with CEMS in 2017.
Fig. 2: Daily distributions of stack concentrations at Chinese power plant stacks 2014–2017.
Fig. 3: Monthly emission factors and total emissions for Chinese power-generating units 2014–2017.
Fig. 4: Absolute emission reductions for 2014–2020.

Data availability

The CEAP database that supports the findings of this study is available at Supplementary Data 2 presents a summary of the CEAP dataset. The data regarding the compilation of the CEAP dataset include CEMS data collected from the platforms listed in Supplementary Data 9, and the unit-specific information provided in Supplementary Data 10. The data regarding the estimation of emission factors and absolute emissions include the stack concentrations presented in Fig. 1, Supplementary Figs. 13 and Supplementary Data 3, the flue gas rates provided in Supplementary Data 7 and 8 and the unit information provided in Supplementary Data 10 and 11. The data regarding the analysis of the determinants of early ULE compliance (region, fuel and capacity) are presented in Supplementary Figs. 49.

Code availability

All computer codes generated during this study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.


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This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation for Outstanding Young Scholars (71622011), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71971007, 71988101 and 11771012), the National Programme for Support of Top Notch Young Professionals and the National Research Programme for Key Issues in Air Pollution Control (DQGG-05-07).

Author information




L.T., Z.M., X.B. and S.W. designed the research. X.B., S.L. and X.Z. processed and analysed the data of the continuous emissions monitoring systems. X.W. compiled and analysed the unit-specific information for Chinese power plants. L.T., J.Q., X.C. and X.X. conducted the experimental work. L.T., Z.M. and L.D.A. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to developing and writing the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Zhifu Mi or Xin Bo.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–5, Figs. 1–9 and refs 1–28.

Supplementary Data

Supplementary Data 1–11.

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Tang, L., Qu, J., Mi, Z. et al. Substantial emission reductions from Chinese power plants after the introduction of ultra-low emissions standards. Nat Energy 4, 929–938 (2019).

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