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New coal plants bury 'Kyoto'

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China is the dominant player. The country is on track to add 562 coal-fired plants - nearly half the world total of plants expected to come online in the next eight years. India could add 213such plants; the US, 72. (See chart below.)

Altogether, those three nations are set to add up to 327,000 megawatts by 2012 - three quarters of the new capacity in the global pipeline and roughly equal to the output of today's US coal-fired generating fleet.

The new coal plants from the three nations would burn about 900 million extra tons of coal each year. That, in turn, would emit in the neighborhood of 2.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, Dr. Schmidt estimates.

"I'm not hugely optimistic we are going to slow the rate of carbon emission overall any time soon," says Schmidt of the Goddard institute. "If this sort of thing continues unchecked, we won't be arguing about climate change in 2100, because the changes will be all too obvious."

But several uncertainties remain. First, not all of the plants may be built. In the US, for example, local opposition may halt construction of some of the 100 coal-fired plants now in various stages of development. According to Mr. Bergesen's numbers, 72 plants could be added, the basis for the Monitor's estimates.

Another uncertainty: Slightly less than half of the new plants Platts forecasts for China and India have an official start date. If only those plants with start dates are built, then the expected emissions from the three nations would total only 1.2 billion tons of CO2, still more than double the required reduction from Kyoto. But that estimate is conservative, experts say, because Chinese and Indian leaders face few political barriers to power-plant construction and big demands for more power.

Efficiency a key

Although US coal-fired plants are far more efficient than those in China or India, all three countries, presumably, would install state-of-the-art technology. The Monitor's estimates are based on the assumption that the new plants in all three nations will be 10 percent more efficient than today's US average - a conservative estimate, experts say.

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