Want to Slash Carbon Emissions? Start With These Plants Vigorously
The world seems to be simultaneous fire and flood, and the latest expert report indicates that time is about to run out to avoid getting worse climate change. That’s all we need to find ways to cut carbon emissions as quickly and economically as possible.
Some good news about that came with the recent release of a paper looking at how much individual power plants have contributed to global emissions. the study found that many countries have facilities that emit carbon dioxide at amounts much higher than the national or world average. Stopping the worst 5 percent of plants will immediately eliminate about 75 percent of emitted carbon made of electricity generation.
It’s easy to think of making electricity in simple terms, like “renewable good, bad coal.” To some extent, that statement is correct. But it also pushes all power generation, from “pretty bad” to “really brutal,” into one category. And it is clear from various research that the situation is even more complicated. In their vineyards, different plants convert fossil fuels into power at varying degrees of efficiency. And some of the less efficient plants are only brought online during times when demand is very high; the rest of the time, they don’t work and never make emissions.
The interactions between the factors determine whether a given power plant is a tree contributing to emission or simply part of the background of a country noise carbon output. If we have a global inventory of emissions and output from each power plant, we can use the data to identify the worst offenders and create a target list for efficiently lowering our output to carbon.
Actually, we have one – give weight to the past. Using data from 2009, there is one that combines the Carbon Monitoring for Action database, or CARMA. Now, nearly a decade ago, Don Grant, David Zelinka, and Stefania Mitova of the University of Colorado Boulder are using 2018 data to build a CARMA update, providing emission data that may be more much newer now.
The task is more difficult than it can be. Some countries provide detailed emission data at each plant level, so their data can be imported directly into CARMA. But many others did not. For the countries, the researchers relied on everything from production data obtained by the International Energy Agency to engineering details for individual plants.
If the researchers identified the most common sources of uncertainty in their data, they found that they were mostly concentrated in small plants, with the least effect on overall emissions. For many facilities that are likely to be the main contributors, the data is generally very good.
The Worst of Evil
It should come as no surprise to anyone that all the worst sinners are coal plants. Even the distribution of the highest plants can be accompanied by little surprise. For example, despite its reputation as a charcoal house, China there is only one crop of the top-10 worst offenders. In contrast, South Korea has three on the list, and India has two.
In general, China does not have many plants that stand out worse, in part because many of its plants were built at the same time, during a giant boom of industrialization. As such, there is not much variation from plant to plant that comes with effectiveness. In contrast, countries like Germany, Indonesia, Russia, and the U.S. all see a lot of diversity, so they tend to have some less efficient plants more outdoors.
In a different way, the authors looked at how much of a country’s pollution is caused by the worst 5 percent of its power plants, ranked by carbon emissions. In China, the worst 5 percent accounted for nearly a quarter of the country’s total emissions. In the U.S., the worst 5 percent of plants produce about 75 percent of the sector’s carbon emissions. South Korea has the same number, while Australia, Germany, and Japan all see their worst damage with 5 percent of crops accounting for nearly 90 percent of carbon emissions from their electricity sectors.