Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Only the lowest carbon dioxide emitting technologies can avoid a hot end-of-century

Date:
February 16, 2012
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Could replacing coal-fired electricity plants with generators fueled by natural gas bring global warming to a halt in this century? What about rapid construction of massive numbers of solar or wind farms, hydroelectric dams, or nuclear reactors -- or the invention of new technology for capturing the carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fueled power plants and storing it permanently underground? A research team calculated the expected climate effects of replacing the world's supply of electricity from coal plants with any of eight cleaner options.

Could replacing coal-fired electricity plants with generators fueled by natural gas bring global warming to a halt in this century? What about rapid construction of massive numbers of solar or wind farms, hydroelectric dams, or nuclear reactors -- or the invention of new technology for capturing the carbon dioxide produced by fossil-fueled power plants and storing it permanently underground? Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures teamed up with Carnegie Institution's Ken Caldeira to calculate the expected climate effects of replacing the world's supply of electricity from coal plants with any of eight cleaner options.

The work was published online by Environmental Research Letters on February 16.

In each case, Myhrvold and Caldeira found that to achieve substantial benefit this century, we would need to engage in a rapid transition to the lowest emitting energy technologies such as solar, wind, or nuclear power -- as well as conserve energy where possible. The researchers found that it takes much longer to curtail the warming of Earth than one might expect. And in the case of natural gas -- increasingly the power industry's fuel of choice, because gas reserves have been growing and prices have been falling -- the study finds that warming would continue even if over the next 40 years every coal-fired power plant in the world were replaced with a gas-fueled plant.

"There is no quick fix to global warming," Caldeira said. "Shifting from one energy system to another is hard work and a slow process. Plus, it takes several decades for the climate system to fully respond to reductions in emissions. If we expect to see substantial benefits in the second half of this century, we had better get started now."

Researchers have previously conducted studies projecting the long-term climate effects of rolling out a single new energy technology. But this work from Myhrvold and Caldeira is the first to examine all the major candidate technologies for replacing coal power -- including conservation -- and to examine wide ranges of possible assumptions about both the emissions each technology generates and also the scope and duration of the build-out.

"It takes a lot of energy to make new power plants -- and it generally takes more energy to make those that use cleaner technology--like nuclear, solar, and wind--than it does to make dirty ones that burn coal and gas," Myhrvold added. "You have to use the energy system of today to build the new-and-improved energy system of tomorrow, and unfortunately that means creating more emission in the near-term than we would otherwise. So we incur a kind of 'emissions debt' in making the transition to a better system, and it can take decades to pay that off. Meanwhile, the temperature keeps rising."

The study used widely accepted models relating emissions to temperature. The two researchers also drew on a rich literature of studies, called life-cycle analyses, that total up all the greenhouse gases produced during the construction and operation of, say, a natural gas plant or a hydroelectric dam or a solar photovoltaic farm. It also examined the potential that technological improvements, such as advances in carbon capture and storage or in solar panel efficiency, could have on outcomes. "It was surprising to us just how long it takes for the benefit of a switch from coal to something better to show up in the climate in the form of a slowdown in global warming," Caldeira said.

"If countries were to start right away and build really fast, so that they installed a trillion watts of gas-fired electricity generation steadily over the next 40 years," Myhrvold said, "that would still add about half a degree Fahrenheit to the average surface temperature of the Earth in 2112 -- that's within a tenth of a degree of the warming that coal-fired plants would produce by that year."

The researchers found that coal- or gas-fired plants equipped with carbon capture and storage may also have good potential eventually, but that substantial advances in technology are still required for it to be able to substantially reduce the amount of climate change. The results from this study suggest that policies aimed at combating global warming should aim at faster, larger-scale transitions that reduce electricity use where possible, while building wind, solar, and nuclear plants, to meet the growth in demand for electricity.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. N P Myhrvold, K Caldeira. Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity. Environmental Research Letters, 2012; 7 (1): 014019 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/1/014019

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Only the lowest carbon dioxide emitting technologies can avoid a hot end-of-century." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216095034.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2012, February 16). Only the lowest carbon dioxide emitting technologies can avoid a hot end-of-century. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216095034.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Only the lowest carbon dioxide emitting technologies can avoid a hot end-of-century." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120216095034.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

AFP (Sep. 12, 2014) — In June 2013, 10 foreign mountaineers and their guide were murdered on Nanga Parbat, an iconic peak that stands at 8,126m tall in northern Pakisan. Duration: 02:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The Ozone layer is recovering thickness! Hooray! But in helping its recovery, we may have also helped put more greenhouse gases out there. Hooray? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Low-Carbon Technologies 'no Quick-Fix': May Not Lessen Global Warming Until Late This Century

Feb. 16, 2012 — A drastic switch to low carbon-emitting technologies, such as wind and hydroelectric power, may not yield a reduction in global warming until the latter part of this century, new research suggests. ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins