Energy Production Report Release

In anticipation of the release of our report on Major Economies and Climate Change with respect to energy production, I thought I should outline some of the key recommendations with respect to coal-power generation. The following is an overview of our policy recommendations towards the top five country level emitters in energy production: China, the United States, the European Union, and India. These recommendations largely echo our group’s prior posts relating to energy production, but they form a vital part of reducing emissions level in the near and long-term.

1) Deal with Coal. Coal will likely remain the primary fuel source for most of the world’s energy production. However, the top five emitters have shifted, or are shifting their policies with respect to coal use. As China and India continue to develop, citizens will increasingly demand government policy to mitigate pollution and the negative health externalities associated with coal-intensive power production. High-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) coal generation technology in the medium-term will help to reduce emissions in pursuit while CCS technology becomes commercial feasible and deployable.

2) Policymakers should adopt strict environmental standards that set maximum level of carbon emissions for existing plants to encourage the retirement of older, less efficient coal powered plants. With over 75% of world coal generation at subcritical standards, this will significantly reduce the levels of emissions associated with coal generation. Replacing this generation with more efficient super-critical or ultra-supercritical generation, which is already under way, will lessen the impact of coal generation on carbon emissions worldwide.

3) Policymakers should focus efforts on encouraging the adoption of high-efficiency low-emission technology in new coal generation. Coal represents a consistent and inexpensive fuel for electricity generation. In the near-term this includes increasing supercritical generation capacity while further developing ultra-supercritical and advanced ultra-supercritical technologies.

The 2 degrees Celsius scenario requires substantial worldwide implementation of CCS starting in the 2030s and on into the 2050s. In the United States, China, and Europe, all coal power plants must use HELE technology along with a substantial percentage of CCS by 2030. While a strong reliance on this technology seems hopeful, given its current level of development, the opportunities for emissions reductions that HELE technologies provide in the interim give policymakers a near-term solution to the environmental challenges of continued worldwide reliance on coal-fired generation.

4) Continued investment and development of carbon capture and sequestration technology could provide the long-term mitigation carbon emissions from coal-generated electricity. Further investment will help to speed the development of the technology from its current levels of limited deployment and testing towards a mature and practical solution.

CCS offers potential gains in reducing carbon emissions, but the technology must reach a development level consistent with deployment by 2020 to allow the gains to contribute to the necessary level for a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario. Hope for potential commercial deployment is still behind target for 2020 deployment given only 13 large-scale demonstration projects are under construction or operation.  This slow speed of demonstration of CCS and the requirement for large-scale projects will likely continue to limit the learning and experience curve in the short term until a large-scale break-through occurs with respect to commercial feasibility of the technology. Given the reality of the coal problem, particularly in India and China, CCS development should continue to provide a solution for coal dependency of developing economies. The cost of coal on these economies will only grow in terms of externalities. As these countries continue to develop, their citizen, and therefore policymakers, will put a higher priority on reducing the impact of coal and its emissions on the environment.

We plan to release our report and research in a  presentation on April 22, 2014 at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin, TX. The event will allow each sector group to present a summary of its research, and the setting will allow both valuable feedback and interaction from audience members. We expect a number of policymakers to attend from the Washington, DC area as well as experts from the UT community and Austin area at large. If you plan to be in Austin during this time, feel free to attend the event.

Spencer Jones is a second year student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. His career in business process consulting and risk management led him to pursue a career in international economic policy and particularly the intersection of national security and economics.

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