Climate change has been a hot button issue for a number of years now. The primary reason behind climate change is greenhouse gas emissions, which the world was responsible for 50 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2010. Electricity generation consisted of a little less than a quarter of all emissions at 13 Gt. That includes generating electricity from every fuel source available, from wind and solar to coal and oil. The total amount of electricity generated all over the world for that year is 21,400 terawatt hours (TWh). So, what if we generated all the electricity from a single power source? What would the emissions be then?
To generate 21,400 TWh of electricity using a single power source varies quite wildly between some sources. Using purely coal, emissions would be 21 Gt and oil would be 18 Gt. Considering our current amalgamation of fuels, we seem to be doing alright in light of that. Now, natural gas would be 10 Gt if used purely for electricity generation. That’s lower than our current rate, so should we make a big switch over to that? Not necessarily. Natural gas, while cleaner than coal and oil, is still a non-renewable fuel that pollutes quite a bit. If we’re going to go with a non-renewable energy source, nuclear would be the cleanest of them all. Totaling a mere 0.4 Gt, nuclear is the cleanest non-renewable energy source we have available.
But what about renewable energy? Renewable energies start out much lower than most of the non-renewables in terms of emissions. Geothermal and Solar Photovoltaic (PV) top the list at 1 Gt of emissions. That’s certainly much more manageable than most non-renewable sources. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) is next at 0.5 Gt of emissions. Biopower ties with nuclear at 0.4 Gt. Wind power would come in at a small 0.3 Gt, oceanic power (wave or current powered) a mere 0.2 Gt, and last (and actually least) is hydropower at 0.1 Gt.
All of the above numbers revolve strictly around electricity generation. Unfortunately, that is not the only source of emissions. As stated before, the total emissions for the world is 50 Gt, and that includes emissions from industrial sectors, transportation, deforestation, and others. To keep the planet in a stable climate, we need to cut that 50 gigatons down to 20 gigatons by the year 2050, and cut it further to near zero gigatons by the year 2100. Switching to a primarily low-carbon technology from the high-carbon oil, natural gas, and coal, we could stem the tide of drastic climate change.
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