Overcoming incumbent resistance to the clean energy shift

how local governments act as change agents in coal power station closures in China

Hao Tan, Elizabeth Thurbon, Sung-Young Kim, John A. Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Phasing out the use of coal for power generation is an important concern for energy policy in the context of green transition. Despite the efforts of other nations, the role of China in the global phase-out of coal power remains crucial. Our study with a sub-national focus sheds important new light on the drivers and decision-making dynamics of exiting of coal power use in China. Based on a case study of closures of coal power plants in China's Guangdong province, we find that under certain circumstances, governments - especially those in the provincial and city levels - can and do act as change agents when it comes to retirement of coal fired power stations. Our study reveals a number of push and pull mechanisms that governments have utilized to overcome the resistance of incumbent power generation companies, primarily based on developmental considerations. By identifying the drivers and enabling mechanisms of phasing out the use of coal power in a significant sub-national region in China, our study contributes to both of the sustainability transition literature and the energy policy literature.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112058
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • industry destabilization
  • coal exit
  • industry upgrading
  • coal power plant retirement
  • creative destruction
  • Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater bay area
  • developmental state

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Overcoming incumbent resistance to the clean energy shift: how local governments act as change agents in coal power station closures in China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this