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Transition From Coal to Natural Gas Can Halt Greenhouse Emissions

Posted on the 17 October 2013 by Dailyfusion @dailyfusion
(Credit: Flickr @ Nuraishah Bazilah Affandi (Credit: Flickr @ Nuraishah Bazilah Affandi

In a recent report called “Energy Perspectives” published by Statoil, company’s experts predict that global power demand will grow by 40% by 2040. The EIA projects that world energy consumption will grow even more—by 56% between 2010 and 2040. A new Siemens study raises the bar even higher, saying that global power demand will increase on average by nearly 3 percent per year over the current and next decade. Cumulatively, this will cause overall power demand to rise by more than half of its current level between now and 2030.

If new power plants are added as foreseeable, associated CO2 greenhouse emissions are likely to increase by a quarter or 3,500 megatons. These are the findings of a recently published study by Siemens and Professor Horst Wildemann of the Technical University of Munich.

“If coal-fired power plants were replaced on a wide scale with gas-fueled power plants by 2030, CO2 emissions in the power sector would even drop by five percent compared to today’s levels,” says Professor Wildemann. “Of course, it would be illusionary to replace all coal-fired power plants with gas-fueled units—but the potentials identified are really impressive,” Wildemann continues. The global CO2 emissions that could be eliminated per year by ending power generation from coal are the equivalent of the entire CO2 emissions of all 28 countries of the European Union.

“In our study we examined the local situations and different needs in various regions of the world,” notes Michael Süß, member of the Management Board of Siemens AG and CEO of Siemens’ Energy Sector, when presenting the study at the World Energy Congress. “Of course, besides sustainability and the need for dependable power supply, economy is always important—there would be no point in closing down new coal-fired power plants ahead of schedule just to cut CO2 emissions.

But it is equally apparent that all-out expansion of renewable energy sources alone does not automatically improve the climate balance, as rising CO2 emissions in Germany impressively highlight. On the other hand, shutting down aging coal-fired power plants not only reduces this greenhouse emissions significantly, but can also make economic sense, as has been proven in the United States. In our study, we analyzed various scenarios while keeping an eye on a three-way balance between sustainability, reliability and economy,” Süß explained.

The study shows that—despite extreme differences in regional conditions—all countries fit fairly comfortably into one of five archetypes in the energy context. In countries with only slowly rising power demand there are on the one hand the “green pioneers” who bank heavily on renewables, and on the other the “traditionalists” with only a low proportion of ecofriendly power.

Among the countries with rapidly increasing demand for electrical power there are the “energy-hungry” nations that have already achieved a high level of electrification, and the “next-wave electrifiers” where there are still major gaps in power supply to all households. The fifth group identified is the “oil export maximizers” that are characterized by the challenge to enhance efficiency in the field of oil and gas exploration.

As regional highlights of these analyses, the study found for example that Europe could save some EUR 45 billion in its drive to expand power generation from renewable resources by 2030 if those sources were tapped at the best locations—while achieving the same ratio of renewables in the power mix. In this scenario, new solar power plants would be installed mainly in Europe’s sunbelt in the South, while wind power plants would be built in the windy northern regions of Europe.

Currently, however, coal consumption in Europe is increasing, while natural gas consumption is on decline. According to the EIA, a confluence of supply and demand factors, in both the natural gas and coal markets, as well as other economic constraints, have contributed to this phenomenon.

In the United States, carbon emissions last year were at their lowest since 1994 and are continuing to decline. The main reason for the trend is the transition from coal to natural gas. Still, the U.S. is losing $80 billion per year due to indirect costs of power failures could be saved if the quality of the grid were improved.

In China it would be possible—despite the doubling of power consumption—to freeze CO2 emissions at today’s level if renewable energy sources were exploited at full-scale. However, this would also require nearly double the investment volume. By contrast, greenhouse emissions could be cut back by almost as much, but at no extra cost, if one third of China’s coal-fired power plants were replaced by modern gas-fired units by 2030, instead of being replaced (as it is planned) by coal-fired synthetic natural gas plants that would produce seven times more greenhouse emissions than conventional natural gas plants.

All interim analyses of the results yielded by the local studies of Europe, Russia, the United States, China, the Middle East and South Korea are available for download, as are the findings of the full study.

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