China's cutbacks in coal use are critical to the success of the Paris climate agreement struck last December. The country pledged to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and, in that time, reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by up to 65 percent below 2005 levels.
China is also trying to clean up some of its notoriously polluted air, and reducing its reliance on coal-fired power plants is one way it is trying to accomplish that.
The data show that as China's overall coal use declined last year, the country's coal imports fell nearly 30 percent. Coal accounts for 64 percent of the country's total energy use.
"The country is looking to invest more in wind and solar and efficiency, so they're shutting down some of their dirtier coal plants, and in their new-builds of coal, they're trying to do them in a manner that's more environmentally sensitive," said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
China installed 32.5 gigawatts of wind and 18.3 gigawatts of solar power in 2015. The institute is forecasting that China will install more than 22 gigawatts of wind and 18 gigawatts of solar power in 2016. China had more than 114 gigawatts of wind power installed by the end of 2014, enough to power 110 million homes.