Removing CO2 emissions from electricity generation is a key challenge that must be overcome if the rise in global temperatures is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius. A new book from the International Energy Agency (IEA) addresses some of the major policy and technology steps needed to achieve such “decarbonisation” of the electricity sector, and provides an authoritative resource on progress to date.The report, Climate & Electricity Annual 2011: Data and Analyses, is the first in a new series from the IEA that addresses the role of electricity in meeting climate-change goals. In addition to examining the massive task of curbing CO2 emissions from electricity and showing how electricity makes a difference in end-use efficiency, the new publication provides statistics related to CO2 and the electricity sector across ten regions of the world.“Electricity is unique when it comes to meeting the climate change challenge: as the largest and fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide (CO2), it also holds many of the solutions to a more efficient, less carbon-intensive economy,” said Bo Diczfalusy, Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology at the IEA.
According to the report, much of the solution to rising CO2 emissions can be found in:
- Enhancing energy efficiency, which sometimes requires using electricity instead of other fuels, but also improving the efficiency of electricity usage (in lighting, heating and cooling, specific industrial uses and information technologies).- Powering electricity with renewable sources of energy, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS is a group of technologies used to reduce CO2 emissions from large CO2 sources such as fossil fuel or biomass power generation).Using these carbon-free options can meet 47% of the emissions savings required by 2035 to limit the global increase in temperature to 2ºC (by bringing the concentration of CO2.in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million).Looking ahead to the future decarbonisation of electricity, the report examines topics such as how electricity markets need re-thinking if low-carbon generation sources are to represent a significant share of future output, and integrating electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles into the electric grid.
‘Unprecedented’ transformation is required
Analysis in the report indicates that, while achievable, there are significant challenges to achieving a low-carbon electricity supply.The report states that total output of electricity and heat (which, in this report, refers to output of combined electricity and heat plants) grew by 55% between 1990 and 2008, while the corresponding CO2 emissions that resulted from this output grew by 64.5% during the same period.Renewables are the fastest-growing source of electricity, the report says. At this stage, fossil fuels still dominate the global output of electricity, with coal accounting for 41% and natural gas ranking second with 16%. The evolution observed in some regions indicates that progress towards decarbonisation is possible, however.
“The required transformation, whether it is measured in new low-carbon generation capacity, in electricity savings on the end-use side, in the number of electric vehicles deployed, or in the hundreds of billions of dollars that must be spent to transform power generation globally, is unprecedented,” Mr Diczfalusy notes. The report also aims to bring forward policy questions that must be faced if electricity is to play its full role in cutting CO2 emissions, such as: How to best finance energy-efficiency programmes? How to address the needed decommissioning of coal-based electricity plants? How do renewable support schemes interact with carbon-pricing policies?Mr Diczfalusy stresses that strong policies, new approaches to encourage investments, and ways to put long-term energy goals on the agenda of decisions makers for action today are all required.