Coal shipments by railway totaled 920 million tonnes across China in the first five months, down 8% from a year ago, data from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) showed on June 30.
In May, the rail delivery volume declined 9.4% from the year prior to 190 million tonnes.
The commission didn't release data for January-April, but declines of 6% and 6.2% were recorded during January-March and January-February, respectively.
NDRC data also showed the total rail freight volume was 1.73 billion tonnes in the first five month, a 0.8% rise on the year. This showed coal represented 53.33% of the total rail freight volume, down from 58.45% over the same period last year.
The fall in proportion has something to do with the coronavirus-led slowdown in economy, even as it started picking up from early April. Another reason, which could be more relevant to the drop, was that coastal power plants and other end users have bought a huge deal of seaborne coal that squeezed purchases of domestic cargoes.
However, the coal deliveries could have fallen even without the epidemic. In fact, in recent years, railway coal shipments have seen the slowing growth year by year.
The NDRC data showed the railway coal shipments were 2.16 billion and 2.38 billion tonnes, respectively, in 2017 and 2018, an increase of 13.3% and 10.3% year on year. In 2019, the figure was 2.46 billion tonnes, only a 3.2% rise.
With an increase in consumption of non-fossil energy like hydro, nuclear and solar power, plus a rise in the cross-regional power transmission from northwestern and southwestern regions, coal-fired power generation in the south and east have been heavily impacted and thermal coal consumption was suppressed as a result.
At the same time, the growth of coal shipments through northern ports has also narrowed significantly. In 2017, the Bohai-rim ports completed a total coal throughput of 677 million tonnes, an increase of 13% year on year, hitting a record high.
In 2018, the ports shipped 727 million tonnes of coal, but the year-on-year growth was only maintained at 7%. In 2019, the total throughput declined more than 1% to 718 million tonnes.
(Writing by Alex Guo Editing by Tammy Yang)
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