16 November 2009

Does this Math Add Up?

Fatih Birol, chief economist for the IEA, was asked about the twin challenges of providing electricity for those without access around the world and the need to reduce emissions.
Climate change and Energy and Poverty are indeed two key challenges the energy world is facing today, and I do believe that a major international concerted effort can deliver a solution with co-benefits for both the issues. Bringing electricity to everyone by 2030 would require electricity generation in 2030 to be only 3% higher than generation in our Reference Scenario. An annual additional investment of $35 billion would be sufficient to meet this challenge. Also impact on energy-related CO2 emissions is disproportionately modest compared with the number of people affected. If the generation fuel mix to supply the additional demand were that of the 450 Scenario, the increase in energy-related global CO2 emissions would be a mere 0.9% by 2030. Alleviating poverty can and must be part of an international effort for fighting Climate Change.
Does this math add up? No. Here are some details:

According to the IEA,
Based on a detailed country-by-country database updated for this Outlook, we estimate that in 2008 the number of people without access to electricity was 1.5 billion or 22% of the world’s population.
The IEA suggests that this number will be cut to 1.3 billion by 2030. The IEA 2030 450 scenario has 26.4 GtCO2 in 2030 (2.4 GtCO2 less than 2007). So 0.9% of this is 0.24 GtCO2. So the IEA is arguing that electricity can be provided to 1.3 billion people by 2030 and it will add only 0.24 GtCO2. Somehow I don't find that to be credible.

By contrast, if each of those 1.3 billion people had average emissions at the 2007 world average of 4.4 tCo2 they would add about 5.72 GtCO2 to the 2030 total, or an increase of 14% over the Reference Scenario.

What this exercise shows is that you can have a lot of fun with Reference Scenarios and Stabilization Scenarios, none of which is too closely connected to the real world. To suggest that access to electricity for 1.3 billion people can be provided at a marginal emission increase of 0.24 GtCO2 is misleading at best, and yet another example of how international assessments serve to dramatically understate the magnitude of the decarbonization challenge.


  1. It's simple. 'Magical Solutions' require 'Magical Maths.'

  2. Roger, I did a small conversion calculation myself.
    On a yearly basis I use 2300 kWh electricity, 1484 m3 natural gas for heating and cooking, and 1041 litres petrol for transport (a modest 12500 km).

    Holland has 90% fossil fuel electricity, so to decarbonise my household this would need the equivalent of 2070 kWh fossil-free electricity, 13057 kWh electricity equivalent for cooking and heating, and 3736 kWh to drive an electric car (using a petrol efficiency of 30%). This means an increase for my household alone of 18863 kWh per year of fossil free electricity.

    With 7.25 million households in the Netherlands that would need 16 GW of extra nuclear power (ten new medium size nuclear power plants), or 67 GW windpower (13384 turbines of 5 MW).

  3. Hans Erren,

    Increasing the number of wind turbines doesn't make up for the low duty factor unless the turbines are very widely distributed, and maybe not even then. So you would still need 16 GW of instant on generating capacity for backup, or a whole lot of batteries.