Limiting climate change to 2°C means shutting down coal power plants – an unpopular proposition for coal power companies. But a new study shows that delaying climate policies could prove even worse for power plant owners.
Coal power plants are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and new plants are planned around the world, particularly in India and China. These new power plants are built to run for 30-50 years, paying off only after years of operation.
But stringent climate policies could make the cost of emission so high that coal power generation is no longer competitive, leaving new power plants sitting idle and their owners and investors with huge losses—a problem known as stranded capacity.
“If we are serious about meeting climate targets, then the reality is that eventually we will have to start shutting down coal-fired power plants. But the longer we delay climate action, the more stranded capacity we’ll have,” says IIASA researcher Nils Johnson, who led the new study, published today in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change.
“Delaying action encourages utilities to build more coal-fired power plants in the near-term. Then, when policies are finally introduced, we have to phase out coal even more quickly and more investments go to waste,” he says.
The new study finds that as much as 37% of global investment in coal power plants over the next 40 years could be stranded if action is delayed, with China and India bearing most of these costs. The study explored strategies to reduce stranded capacity in coal power plants, while limiting future climate change to the internationally agreed 2°C target.
It shows that one key is to avoid new coal power plant construction. Potential options include shifting to other kinds of power plants, keeping old coal plants running, and improving energy efficiency. By reducing the amount of energy used, efficiency improvements also reduce the amount of energy that must be generated and, therefore, the need for new power plants.
“The best strategy would be to stop building new coal power plants starting today,” says Johnson. However, the researchers also explored what would happen in a perhaps more realistic case, if governments are not yet willing to limit new plant construction.
Johnson and colleagues in IIASA’s Energy Program also examined two additional strategies with this limitation: grandfathering existing plants so that they are exempt from future climate policies, or retrofitting plants with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), a yet unproven technology that would capture greenhouse gas emissions and store them underground.
However, both of these strategies create a major risk that average temperatures will rise above the 2°C goal—a target set by international agreement in order to avoid the most dire consequences of climate change. While the grandfathering strategy would allow power plant operators to keep the old ones running, it would lead to greater emissions and reduced chances of limiting climate change to the 2°C target.
And while CCS could theoretically be used to retrofit coal power plants, the study shows that hundreds of power plants would need retrofitting in a short period of time—a lot of pressure on a technology that as yet remains both technically and politically uncertain. “CCS could buy us time, but what if it doesn’t work? It’s a risky strategy,” says Volker Krey, a co-author on the paper.
Johnson N, Krey V, McCollum DL, Rao S, Riahi K, Rogelj J. 2014. Stranded on a low-carbon planet: Implications of climate policy for the phase-out of coal-based power plants. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162514000924
For more information please contact:
+43(0) 2236 807 490
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 316
Mob: +43 676 83 807 316
IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. www.iiasa.ac.at
Katherine Leitzell | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology