Power-ful Information: Efficiency in Energy

15 Nov

People are far more likely to take action when they have the necessary information to target their actions and measure their success. In the absence of high quality information, action becomes riskier, by for instance increasing the possibility of wasting resources on inefficient tasks.

PowerStationIt is with this in mind that I am particularly excited about a powerful new source of information that can help the world take smarter, better action in the fight to slow global warming and protect the environment. The Center for Global Development released yesterday CARMA (CARbon Monitoring for Action), a website and database of the carbon emissions of over 50,000 power plants and 20,000 power companies around the world. Using a combination of official information and computer models, they have captured the amount of electricity generated and resulting carbon output. With this information, they have been able to identify the worst polluting countries (USA) and most inefficient countries per capita (Australia).

The one thing which bothers me about CARMA is that they have failed to make efficiency the center of attention. Similarly, articles in Nature and BBC catch the significance of carbon emissions per capita, but fail to highlight the least efficient power stations, instead focusing on the worst polluting ones.

The city of Taichung in Taiwan is home to a power plant that emits more than 37 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, the highest of any plant in the world.

Frankly I don’t care which power plant produces the MOST emissions, I care which ones are not only fouling the air, but doing so without producing a large amount of energy.

So what ARE the lease efficient power stations in the world? It is actually difficult to tell using the tools on their site, because you cannot easily manipulate the data. Without an easy filters for minimum size of plant, if you sort by “intensity” (tons CO2 per MWh Energy) you end up with a large number of very small power stations which, while inefficient, are producing relatively tiny amounts of emission. I can tell you this, however:

  • Of the top 10 largest power stations in the USA, Jeffrey Station in Kansas, Owned by WESTAR ENERGY INC is the least efficient, pumping out 16,300,000 tons of CO2 while producing only 13,900,000 MWh of energy (intensity = 2,355)
  • Abadie Station in Missouri is the most efficient of the top 10 in the USA, producing 16,400,000 tons of CO2 while generating 17,700,000 MWh of energy (Intensity = 1,849). Good work AMEREN CORP
  • By contrast, the worst of the top 10 in China is Tongliao Station, owned by CHINA POWER INVESTMENT CORP, producing 17,800,000 tons of CO2 and only 12,300,000 MWh of energy (Intensity = 2,902), nearly 25% worse than the worst offender in the United States

With more time, and the right tools, this database could yield some powerful insights. Here’s to hoping that those insights can lead to important changes in policy and investment.

Others have also been characterizing CARMA around the web.

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