Coal is the top source of electricity generation around the world and it is set to grow. From a climate change perspective, this is obviously not good. Experts believe that coal should be the top priority as the fossil fuel to phase out.
In Ontario, it is prohibited to generate electricity via burning coal. In 2000, Ontario’s electricity generation mix was the following: nuclear 37%, coal/oil 29%, hydro 26%, natural gas 7% and renewables 1%. In 2015, the generation mix was Nuclear 60%, hydro 24%, gas/oil 10%, wind 6%, with biofuel and solar making up the rest. However, this has presented series financial issues, namely nuclear refurbishment and current grid operations. The Ontario electricity grid currently emits well under 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (CO2g-e/kwh). This is also sometimes referred to as carbon intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK).
The USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides CIPK for electricity sources. Hydro, nuclear, wind and solar are near zero, geothermal 25-57, natural gas 450-670 and coal 980.
Alberta plans to stop generating electricity from burning coal by 2030. Electricity generation is scheduled to be a mix of 30% renewable energy and 70% natural gas. In 2030, Alberta CIPK will be about 400.
The following are some 2014 CIPK global statistics (source: International Energy Agency): Canada 151, Sweden 12, France 69, Denmark 257, Germany, UK and USA 475+, Japan 551, China 734, India 926. Various live electricity grids throughout the world can be viewed here. The IEA provides detailed monthly reports of OECD countries electricity generation mix (Note: The IEA categorizes biomass as a “combustible fuel”, along with fossil fuels. Others label biomass as “renewable energy”. Some forms of biomass, which is essentially wood burning, can be worse for the climate than coal) .
“Japan spent 60% more for fossil fuel imports in 2013 compared to 2010, an increase of $270 billion over three years. This reversed Japan’s trade surplus…” This situation in Japan was of course the result of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown. Fukushima raises concerns, RationalWiki has a post “FAQ on radioactivity and nuclear technology”. Germany has spent approx 200 billion euros since 2000 to deploy renewable energy and decommission nuclear power. This has had minimal impact on CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use for generating electricity. Also of note is that residential electricity rates in Germany are almost twice as much as those in France. In California, 60% of in-state electricity is generated by burning natural gas, 33% of their electricity consumption is supplied by imports. The United Kingdom is converting some coal plants to biomass, which aids in achieving renewable energy targets (Nova Scotia has also used biomass to assist in reaching renewable energy targets).
This post focuses only on electricity generation (about 20% of global energy consumption) and does not discuss transportation, agricultural, industrial, residential and commercial energy use (almost exclusively fossil fuel generated), making the war on fossil fuels all the more daunting. All clean energy sources have their challenges. The following is a list of some organizations that support an “all of the above” approach to clean energy deployment: United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, USA Department of Energy, USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, International Energy Agency and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If climate change is of the utmost urgency, and rapid reduction of CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use is required, then all clean energy sources must be promoted, supported and given serious consideration.