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Baseline Efficiency Analysis of Fossil Fuel Power PlantsEconomic Commission for Europe

Committee on Sustainable Energy

Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels Eleventh session

Geneva, 30 October 2015

Item 7a of the provisional agenda

Task Force on Increasing Efficiency of Fossil Fuel-fired Power Plants and Potential Normative Instruments

1. We Rely on Fossil Fuels

Electricity generation through the use of fossil fuels is a foundational pillar to modern society. Over two thirds of the world’s electricity is supplied by fossil fuels with coal alone accounting for 42% of global electricity1. Electricity production has been built upon fossil fuels because they have historically been abundant and inexpensive. The power plant technologies needed to convert fossil fuels into electricity also have a history of being easy to construct without excessively high capital costs and have lent themselves to economies of scale2. Inexpensive fossil fuels and technology has created an electricity sector designed around these fuels where power plants have been constructed in locations where the energy-dense fossil fuels were readily available, delivered and are cheap and easy to handle3. The continued use of these fuels is expected in part because global supplies of abundant and inexpensive fossil fuels are estimated to last well into the future. At current production levels, proven coal reserves are estimated to last 118 more years and proven oil and gas reserves should last around 46 and 59 years respectively4. To summarize: with the growth of electricity demand and production, the security of supply, and economic competitiveness of fossil fired plants, fossil fuels have become deeply engrained into the energy foundation that modern societies are built upon. However, the high carbon content of fossil fuels make them a major contributor to rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere and attempts are underway to ensure adequate environmental performance of fossil-fired power plants.

2. Fossil Fuels Have Adverse Effects

Unfortunately there are drawbacks from continuing to use fossil fuels as a primary energy source. The combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and thus contributes to climate change. The CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion for power generation is the single largest source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions5. These emissions make up 28% of the total CO2 emissions from all sources6. More specifically, coal-fired power plants are the largest emitters of CO2. Over the past 15 years, the rapid increase in capacity of coal-fired electricity

1 World Coal Association 2011, via UNECE Energy Week 2011;IEA data, staff calculations http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/energy/se/pp/clep/ahge8/3_Opening_Budinsky_item_7.pdf

2 UNECE (2013) Mitigating Climate Change Through Investments in Fossil Fuel Technologies, 8

3 Ibid., pg14

4 World Coal Association 2011, via UNECE Energy Week 2011;IEA data, staff calculations

http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/energy/se/pp/clep/ahge8/3_Opening_Budinsky_item_7.pdf

5 UNECE (2013) Mitigating Climate Change Through Investments in Fossil Fuel Technologies, 18

6 Ibid., 18

UNECE Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels

CEP-11/2015/INF.4 Version 1, 9 October 2015

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