Carbon emissions from making electricity could vanish by 2060: study


Coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station, Ontario, Canada, now being converted to 44-MW solar farm

Coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station, Ontario, Canada, now being converted to 44-MW solar farm

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One of the major sources of carbon emissions is electricity generation.

It's an issue that is becoming increasingly important in the automotive sphere, due to the slow rise of plug-in electric cars.

So what would it take to eliminate carbon emissions entirely from making electricity?

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The answer is both efficiency improvements, and a shift of the generating mix into renewable energy, according to a new study.

Carbon emissions from electricity generation could be reduced 70 percent by 2050, and eliminated entirely by 2060, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

That cut is necessary to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which is generally considered the threshold for irreversible climate change.

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

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Globally, 32 gigatonnes of electricity-related emissions were produced in 2015, but that amount would need to fall continuously to 9.5 gt by 2050 in order to prevent a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to IRENA.

The study claims 90 percent of that reduction could be achieved by expanding renewable-energy use and by making improvements in a wide range of energy efficiency measures.

Renewable energy already accounts for 24 percent of global power generation, and 16 percent of "primary energy supply," according to IRENA.

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But to achieve the necessary reduction in carbon emissions, it would need to reach 80 percent of power generation and 65 percent of primary energy supply by 2050, the study said.

Outside the energy industry itself, the study also calls for efforts to reduce carbon emissions in related areas.

Electric cars would need to become the "predominant" vehicle type by 2050, for example, and recharge largely on electricity from renewable sources.

Offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farm

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Buildings would also need to convert to all-electric power, with a focus on energy efficiency.

A total of 2 billion buildings would need to be renovated or built new to achieve the necessary carbon-emissions reductions, according to the study.

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Finally, the study calls for a tenfold increase in liquid biofuel production.

Elimination of carbon emissions from electricity generation is a worthy and important goal, but environmentalists and policymakers will have to work hard to achieve the fairly ambitious goals called for by this study.

Green Car Reports respectfully reminds its readers that the scientific validity of climate change is not a topic for debate in our comments. We ask that any comments that deny the accepted scientific consensus on climate change be flagged for moderation. Thank you in advance for helping us keep our comments on topic, civil, respectful, family-friendly, and fact-based.

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