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The website shows that developing countries had over 67GW of new coal in one year alone, 2019. Whether this is new capacity or replacement is not my question. My question is, what leads them to spend money on coal plants if they are uneconomical? Or do they make economic sense?


There are probably multiple reasons for the ongoing construction of new coal plants. Here are few ideas, some of which are certain, others less so.

1) The negative externalities of coal are not priced into the cost of coal power, nor are they regulated. Smog-forming, acid rain-causing and toxic air pollution from coal plants are the biggest negative externalities of burning coal, killing millions of people every year, sickening many, many more (probably over a billion affected with at least minor illness) and causing massive environmental damage. There are also water pollution, soil pollution, and ecosystem destruction that come along coal mining, burning, waste disposal. In a country that neither regulates nor prices the negative externalities, coal power may appear to be the cheapest available power.

2) Inertia: people and societies tend to do what they've done before unless they are caused to change. For many decades, the path to bringing power to developing countries has been primarily to build coal plants and there are lots of institutions and individuals that know and are comfortable with that route, but do not know and are not comfortable with building a reliable grid incorporating a lot of wind and solar.

3) Political and economic power of the people and institutions that have a vested interest in continuing the reliance on coal power. Fossil fuel companies that maybe some of the biggest most powerful institutions operating in a developing country aren't going to be interested in undermining their own power and economic interests by considering renewable energy. Same goes for many individuals and political players, so that even if transitioning to renewables was a clear winner for a country, objectively speaking, they won't transition if the power players don't let it happen.

Those are the biggest I can think of at the moment.
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