The EU could make huge progress in cutting emissions by focussing on a few large power plants.
Emissions from a vast range of sources need to be reduced if targets for limiting climate change are to be reached. Nevertheless huge progress can often be made by concentrating on the largest few sources.
The EUETS illustrates this well. It covers over 11,000 installations. Out of these just 18 lignite and coal power plants, less than 0.2% of total installations, accounted for over 14% of all EUETS emissions in 2016, and 25% of all power sector emissions. Half of these installations, accounting for 57% of emissions from the group, are in Germany.
Just 18 large power plants account for over 14% of emissions covered by the EUETS …
Source: EUTL, Sandbag
Over half these emissions are in Germany …
Source: EUTL, Sandbag
This concentration of emissions creates a huge opportunity. Replacing the generation from these 18 plants with renewables would by itself achieve all of the emissions reductions required for the EUETS in the 2020s even if there were no other reductions in emissions at all. This is in part because emissions will start the 2020s well below the cap[i]. So the EU can meet its 2030 targets just by eliminating emissions from 18 plants, provided only that emissions elsewhere don’t increase from their 2020 level.
Eliminating these emissions is comparatively straightforward. Renewables are increasingly available at scale and at low cost and over the course of the decade could easily displace this much generation. Even replacing these emissions with generation from gas would reduce emissions by two thirds or more, because current emissions per kWh are so high. And it should not be impossible to redeploy the workers from these plants to do more valuable things like improving insulation in buildings.
Limiting global temperature rises to two degrees implies severe limits on cumulative global emissions. This is not consistent with advanced economies continuing to generate so much from power from highly emissions intensive power plants. Germany has made a huge contribution to the international effort to reduce emissions through its solar power programme, which has been essential in reducing solar PV costs and stimulating global deployment of this technology. However this cannot justify continuing with current policies in the power sector. Measures to target these plants now look like a priority. Such measures could include further reforms EUETS, but will likely also require other action.
[i] Emissions from stationary sources in 2016 were 1750 million tonnes. This looks likely to reduce by about 40 million tonnes each year to 2020 simply as a result of existing trends, including deployment of renewables. This will leave no more than about 1590 million tonnes p.a. by 2020. Eliminating the 2016 emissions from the largest 18 power sector emissions alone would save a further 256 million tonnes, reducing emissions to 1334 even if there were no other emissions reductions. This would be enough to get down to the 2030 stationary emissions cap of 1333 million tonnes. This incidentally highlights the need for the EUETS to be robust to emissions remaining below the currently legislated cap.