Moving away from coal could reduce whole of EU’s emissions: study

Siemens has recently published an energy study on how regions across the world, like China and the United States, can optimise their power supply, presenting different scenarios to create a sustainable and energy-secure future

Carbon emissions worldwide can be reduced by as much as all the emissions of the 28 European Union countries combined if coal power generation is stopped by 2030, concluded a recently-released study by Siemens.

The report, titled ‘Connecting Possibilities: Scenarios for Optimizing Energy Systems’, presents different ways to achieve affordable and sustainable power supply systems in the years to come.

Produced by the Germany-headquarterd multinational company in partnership with professor Horst Wildemann of the Technical University of Munich, the report analysed carbon emissions, energy consumption and energy demand growth around the world.

This study is one of three different initiatives that Siemens’ Energy Sector undertook in preparation for the five-day World Energy Congress (WEC) in Daegu, South Korea, which ended on Thursday.

Michael Suess, chief executive officer of Siemens’ Energy Sector and member of the managing board of Siemens AG, said in the report: “Energy is one of the fundamental requisites for the development of every society.”

The study highlighted that global power demand is set to increase on average by nearly three per cent per year over the current and following decade. In the larger context, it added that this growth will lead to a surge in power demand of more than half of the current level between now and 2030.

If we all promote and implement only a small share of these possibilities, we would make substantial progress toward achieving energy systems with more innovative technologies, more effective climate and environmental protection, better supply security and greater efficiency

Michael Suess, Siemens’ Energy Sector CEO

By 2030, the United Nations aims to have provided one billion people around the world with access to sustainable energy.

Currently, however, the world’s power supply is still primarily sourced from oil, coal or peat and natural gas, according to the 2010 data of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

To move away from fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, the Siemens’ Energy Sector study looked at the possibility of eliminating coal power plants.

Professor Wildemann said: “If coal-fired power plants were replaced on a wide scale with gas-fuelled power plants by 2030, CO2 emissions in the power sector would even drop by five per cent compared to today’s levels.”

The global carbon emissions which could be eliminated per year with the termination of coal power generation is equivalent to the total emissions of the EU.

“Of course, it would be illusionary to replace all coal-fired power plants with gas-fuelled units – but the potentials identified are really impressive,” Wildemann added.

Along with this global assessment, the report also identified six key regions – Europe, Russia, the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, and Korea – and analysed their different energy situations and needs.

In an email to Eco-Business, Siemens study lead Peter Stuckenberger explained that “the six regions represent typical market archetypes: such as energy-hungry countries like China, traditional markets like the US, oil export maximizers like the Middle East and Russia, and green-oriented regions like Europe.”

“Korea the host land of the WEC, in addition, is typical for a market facing the core challenges of all energy markets: economic efficiency, climate change, reliable power supply and resource efficiency,” he added.

Currently, in China, the largest consumer of energy in the world, the amount of emissions from the power sector is at 3,635 million tonnes (Mt), compared to the 2,290Mt of the US, which is the world’s second biggest carbon emitter next to China.

According to the Siemens study, it is possible to retain the same level of CO2 emissions in the Asian giant, despite the doubling of power consumption, if it fully maximises all of its renewable energy sources. However, this would entail almost double the investment volume, the report noted.

“By contrast, 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.”

In the US, where a national strategy to curb emissions from coal plants was recently adopted as in China, the study pointed out that the country can achieve economic and environmental savings if it focused on generating its own supply of natural gas and modernising its grid system.

The US has ample reserves of unconventional fuels like shale gas and the current rise to exploit this resource is enabling the country to shift from importing energy to exporting energy, said the report. However, it is also the reason why there is a low share of renewable energy sources in the US.

Europe, on the other hand, may potentially earn about 45 billion euros in savings if it expanded its renewable resources in optimal locations by 2030, while maintaining the same ratio of renewables in its power mix. For example, one scenario would be placing solar power plants around Europe’s sunbelt in the south, said the report.

However, Stuckenberger told Eco-Business that going for renewables only and excluding natural gas, since this has been said to be not fully sustainable, is “not the right solution, because wind is not blowing all the time and the sun does not shine at night but you still need reliable power”.

“It is important to always maintain a triangle of balance – consisting of availability, environmental friendliness and affordability in mind,” Stuckenberger emphasised.

Back to the second scenario in the US, modernising the power grid will allow the nation to collect US$4 billion in annual savings in production expenditures.

Currently, 70 per cent of power transformers in the country are more than 25 years old, while 60 per cent of circuit breakers are more than 30 years old, according to the US Department of Energy data that Stuckenberger cited.

Suess noted: “The individual scenarios make it clear that there is huge savings potential when it comes to sustainable, secure and, above all, cost-efficient energy supplies. The results are intended to stimulate ideas and motivate.”

“If we all promote and implement only a small share of these possibilities, we would make substantial progress toward achieving energy systems with more innovative technologies, more effective climate and environmental protection, better supply security and greater efficiency,” he added.

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