Now for the first time, the CO2 emissions of 50,000 power plants worldwide, the globe’s most concentrated source of greenhouse gases, have been compiled into a massive new data base, called CARMA—Carbon Monitoring for Action.
The on-line database, compiled by the Center for Global Development (CGD), an independent policy and research organization that focuses on how the actions of the rich world shape the lives of poor people in developing countries, lays out exactly where the CO2 emitters are and how much of the greenhouse gas they are casting into the atmosphere. It also shows which companies own the plants.
A research team, led by David Wheeler, a senior fellow at CGD, constructed the enormous database to help speed the shift to less carbon-intensive power generation – with the objective of minimizing global warming which is and will hurt poor people in developing countries first and worst. The CARMA data is arrayed on a user-friendly website: www.CARMA.org.
The database and its website rank individual power plants, plotting their location by latitude and longitude. The data for total power-related emissions can be displayed by cities, states or provinces, and countries. For the U.S., emissions data are also available for Congressional districts, counties and metro areas, making it possible for the first time to compare total power-related emissions by locality.
Rankings of the 4,000 electric power companies in the world show which are the biggest carbon polluters, globally, nationally, and at sub-national levels. Company-level data include emissions and power generation for 2000 and 2007, as well as estimates of future emissions and power generation from planned expansions. Data will be updated regularly as facility ownership changes and new plants come online.
Power generation accounts for about one-quarter of total emissions of CO2, the main culprit in global warming. But, until now, people concerned about climate change lacked information about the emissions of particular power plants and the identities of the companies that own them.
“CARMA makes information about power-related CO2 emissions transparent to people throughout the world,” says Dr. Wheeler, an expert in the use of public information disclosure to reduce pollution. “Information leads to action. We know that this works for other forms of pollution and we believe it can work for greenhouse gas emissions, too.”
“We expect that institutional and private investors, insurers, lenders, environmental and consumer groups and individual activists will use the CARMA data to encourage power companies to burn less coal and oil and to shift to renewable power sources, such as wind and solar,” Dr. Wheeler says. Earlier research by Wheeler and his co-authors showed that highly-polluting plants in China and Indonesia responded to pressure from neighboring communities and lenders by reducing pollution significantly after public disclosure of their emissions.
On a per capita basis, Australians are some of the largest CO2 emitters in the world, producing more than 11 tons of power sector CO2 emissions per person every year. Americans aren’t far behind at more than 9 tons per person. Populous developing nations have far lower per capita emissions. For example, the average Chinese citizen produces 2 tons of CO2 emissions from power generation annually, and Indians emit about half of one ton per person.
A recent study by William Cline, a joint senior fellow at CGD and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, predicts that agricultural productivity in developing countries will decline sharply by 2080, as crops in areas closer to the equator suffer from the effects of increased heat and drought. Averting such a disaster would require rapid emission reductions in the first half of this century. CARMA is intended to help speed the necessary emission reductions.
CARMA data come from government reports and often from the plants themselves. Where directly reported emissions data are lacking, the CARMA team has estimated emissions, with 90 percent or greater confidence, using a statistical model based on the type and age of plant, the type of fuel, and the amount of power generated.
The resulting information is displayed using a five-color rating system and differently sized circles based on the amount of power produced. CARMA highlights low-carbon power producers and flags dangerous emitters. Rankings range from nearly zero emissions, Green, to extremely dirty, Red.
“CARMA is unique, one of a kind—a world standard,” says CGD president Nancy Birdsall. “Never before has this kind of detailed information been made available on a global scale. Not only is it likely to catalyze action to cut emissions now, it also strengthens the knowledge base for monitoring any future international market-based agreement, whether a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. Let us hope it speeds the way to an agreement – which matters immensely for the well-being of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries.”
The U.S. Dirty Dozen
Globally, power generation emits nearly 10 billion tons of CO2 per year. The U.S., with over 8,000 power plants out of the more than 50,000 worldwide, accounts for about 25 percent of that total or 2.8 billion tons. CARMA shows that the U.S.’s biggest CO2 emitter is Southern Co. with annual emissions of 172 million tons, followed by American Electric Power Company Inc., Duke Energy Corp., and AES Corp.
Annually, the 12 biggest CO2 polluting power plants in the United States are:The Scherer plant in Juliet, GA — 25.3 million tons
The state with the greatest CO2 emissions from electricity generation is Texas (290 million tons), followed by Florida (157 million tons), Indiana (137 million tons), Pennsylvania (136 million tons), Ohio (133 million tons), Illinois (113 million tons), Kentucky (98 million tons), Georgia (92 million tons), Michigan (91 million tons) and Alabama (91 million tons).
The District of Columbia has the lowest power-related emissions (113,000 tons), followed by Vermont (437,000 tons), Idaho (1 million tons), Rhode Island (2.6 million tons); South Dakota (4.7 million tons); and Alaska (6 million tons).
At the county level, Walker County in Alabama, where power plants produce over 28 million tons of CO2 each year, heads the list of CO2 emitters. Grundy County in Illinois, with two large nuclear plants, and Taylor County in Texas, which relies almost exclusively on renewable resources, have nearly zero CO2 emissions.
Browsing CARMA offers some surprising contrasts that show how different approaches to power generation can make huge differences in emissions. For example: The CO2 output from power plants in California, with some 36 million people, is nearly the same as that of North Carolina, which has only one-quarter of California’s population. North Carolina gets about half its power from coal; California relies on a mix of natural gas, hydro, nuclear power, and renewable energy.
Residents of Austin, Texas, including faculty and students of the University of Texas at Austin, have the highest-emitting power facility of any university town in the country, emitting some 400,000 tons a year.
The International Burden
Although no single country comes close to the 2.8 billion tons of CO2 produced annually by the U.S. power sector, other countries collectively account for three-quarters of the power-related CO2 burden. China comes second after the U.S. with 2.7 billion tons; followed by Russia – 661 million tons; India – 583 million tons; Japan – 400 million tons; Germany – 356 million tons; Australia – 226 million tons; South Africa – 222 million tons; the United Kingdom – 212 million tons; and South Korea – 185 million tons.
CARMA shows low power sector CO2 emissions from Hungary, Algeria, Kuwait, Singapore, Belarus, Portugal, Chile, Denmark, and Brazil.
“High U.S. emissions are partly the result of high living standards but they also reflect differences in energy policy. Europeans, with comparable living standards, emit less than half the power sector CO2 of the average American”, says Dr. Birdsall.
One surprise in the data is that the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world in absolute terms are located not in the rich world but in rapidly emerging economies with massive coal-fired plants.
Indeed, new research by Dr. Wheeler shows that even without CO2 emissions from the high income countries, rapidly rising emissions in developing countries would put them on track to produce their own climate crisis in just 20 years.
Company Country Tons of CO21 HUANENG POWER INTERNATIONAL China 292,000,000
Carbon emissions impose a huge cost on society by threatening the basic elements of life —access to water, food production, health and the environment. Economists have estimated these “social costs” at anywhere from $8 per ton to as high as $100 per ton of CO2.
Investors are expected to respond quickly to the CARMA data. Many are already concerned about the possible impact of future regulations on power company profits—whether or not they are worried about climate change. For such investors, CARMA provides an easy way to check the potential carbon liabilities of firms in which they invest. CARMA includes links to stock market information for many publicly traded companies.
Investors who believe that society will eventually insist that CO2 polluters pay part of the costs can easily calculate power firms’ potential liability by multiplying the number of tons of CO2 emitted annually by a per-ton charge they think likely and subtracting the result from the company’s profits.
“Even if you assume a fairly low charge of about $20 per ton of CO2, power producers that rely heavily on fossil fuels will have to shift rapidly toward renewable energy if they are to remain profitable,” Dr. Wheeler says.
By comparison, power companies that rely heavily on low-carbon technologies—hydropower, nuclear, wind, and solar—face fewer potential climate-related liabilities. CARMA makes it easy to find these companies: large power producers with low-carbon emissions intensity earn a large Green circle, while large power producers that emit a lot of CO2 get a large Red circle.
CARMA’s maps and geographical interface will be useful for states, cities, and counties that have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, CARMA will assist the nearly 700 US mayors who have signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
Jacob Scherr, Senior Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that the data will be helpful to states and cities that want to cut emissions from local power plants as part of their climate change strategies. “Across the U.S., in the absence of federal action, many states and cities are eager to take action,” he says. “This data will help state and local leaders to measure their progress.”
Table 1. Top-100 Highest CO2-Emitting Power Plants in the United States
Table 2. Power Sector CO2 Emissions by State
Table 3. Top-25 CO2-Free Power Plants in the United States
Table 4. Top-100 Highest CO2-Emitting Power Sectors by U.S. County
Table 5. Top-25 CO2-Free Power Sectors by U.S. County Map. Power Plants in the Continental United States
Table 6. Top-25 Highest CO2-Emitting Power Plants Worldwide
Table 7. Top-50 Countries with Highest CO2-Emitting Power Sectors
Table 1. Top-100 Highest CO2-Emitting Power Plants in the United StatesPlant City State Tons of CO2
Table 4. Top-100 Highest CO2-Emitting Power Sectors by U.S. CountyCounty State Tons of CO2
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