The International Energy Agency (IEA) publishes monthly electricity production statistics, cumulative for the current year and comparison for the same time period of the previous two years. The particular report up to the end of December 2016 does of course show the most recent three complete years of statistics, therefore, it is the one that was used for this post. It contains data for mostly OECD countries and therefore, does not include China and India (The USA Energy Information Administration has published detailed energy posts of these two countries, which the links point to).
The IEA also publishes grams of CO2 emitted per kilo-watt hour (averaged out on an annual basis). This detailed report created by Bernard Chabot is the best source I have found for this number (page 135 is data from an IEA 2014 edition, which is likely 2012 data). The IEA states that in order to meet Paris climate change agreements, electricity generation must be below 100 CO2 grams emitted per kilo-watt hour.
Data for several countries follows, with a brief discussion for some. As stated, these stats are accumulated electricity production for last three complete years (The category “combustible fuels” includes coal, oil, natural gas and biomass). This of course is not the full story about electricity production and operations because, for example, on electricity grids, output must match demand at all times and this point will be touched on at the end.
The following lists from highest to lowest CO2 grams emitted per kilowatt-hour
Their grid operates at 799 CO2ge/kwh, so they have a long way to go. There is debate about how they should reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use. The state of South Australia has recently experienced significant blackouts.
Their grid operates at 551 CO2ge/kwh, they have struggled with CO2 emissions since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as almost all of their 50+ nuclear reactors have been out of operation and replaced mostly with imported fossil fuels. We should expect their CO2 emissions to increase as they announced in February 2017 they plan to build 45 coal plants in the next decade. Data back to 2005 has been included to clearly see before and after March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
UK is also undertaking coal to gas switching and therefore, their current number may be lower than 479 CO2ge/kwh. Recent headlines proclaimed wind produced more electricity in UK in 2016 than coal. This is indeed the case, but when the data is examined, one observes that from 2015 to 2016, coal experienced a large drop in production, wind a slight drop and gas made significant gains.
Germany is one that many who are concerned about CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use point to as an example to follow as their number is 475 CO2ge/kwh (Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency estimates the 2015 number to be 535). They have greatly increased their renewable capacity and decommissioned nuclear power plants, as was stated in their goals. Also in the goals was to reduce CO2 emissions, with mixed results. In order to have a better picture of progress, data back to 2005 has been included. It will be interesting to see how Germany progresses with their “Energiewende” to shut down nuclear power, attempt to continue to deploy renewable capacity, all the while, ensure electricity operations are stable, reduce dependency on combustible fuels and perhaps even achieve 100 CO2ge/kwh.
This country is included because a headline claimed their electric trains were running 100% on wind power, which of course is inaccurate, their electricity is generated mostly with natural gas and coal and operates at 441 CO2ge/kwh.
Headlines proclaimed that Portugal generated all of its electricity for four days in 2016 with renewables because during that time there were strong winds and heavy rains to fill hydro dam reservoirs. Throughout the year, their grid operates at 364 CO2ge/kwh.
This is also a country that many who are concerned about fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions point to as an example to follow. Their electricity grid operates at 257 CO2ge/kwh. They benefit from the fact that many European grids are interconnected and can import and export because of this, when required.
Canada is mostly hydro and their use of combustible fuels can be attributed primarily to the province of Alberta (They currently have plans to convert from coal to at least 70% natural gas, but University of Victoria has published a thorough research paper with a comparison to a conversion that would also include nuclear). Canada operates at 151 CO2ge/kwh
France generates most of its electricity from nuclear and has done so for a few decades now. Their electricity grid operates at 69 CO2ge/kwh. 12 to 20 of France’s 58 nuclear reactors were shut down for part of the time in 2016.
In November 2016, their Green Party backed a plan to have three out of five of their nuclear reactors shut down in 2017, with the last shutting down in 2029, a vote was conducted and it was defeated as “business leaders and the government said shutting them down too quickly could lead to power shortages and raise reliance on fossil fuels”. Their grid operates at 28 CO2ge/kwh.
Sweden has one of the lowest CO2 emitting and polluting electricity grids in the world. Theirs operates at 12 CO2ge/kwh. “How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden”
California is the most populous state in the USA and they are attempting to transition to renewable energy. David Gattie wrote a post with regard to a headline that on July 12, 2016, California powered 6 million homes with solar energy. Actually, it was electricity, not energy and this did indeed happen……….for that particular moment of the day when solar produced its maximum output. Within that post, David created the detailed, but clear and concise, graph below showing how electricity was generated for that 24 hour period. It is clear it is dominated by natural gas and imports and at the time of peak demand, solar production was declining. Two hours later, solar stopped producing any electricity for the day and at this time, demand was still near its peak.
If we wish to decarbonize our energy systems, it may be OK to read headlines, but it is much more important to do detailed quantitative analysis to understand what we have achieved and what we have yet to accomplish.
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