The impacts of existing energy infrastructure

There’s an interesting new article in Science assessing the climatic implications of current energy infrastructure that could be an excellent student reading in a class section on solutions and future scenarios, Davis, et al., Future CO2 Emissions and Climate Change from Existing Energy Infrastructure, 329 Science 1330-1333 (2010).

Among the key take-aways of the piece:

  1. Barring the widespread use of carbon capture and sequestration or early de-commissioning of energy and transportation infrastructure, the “committed emissions represent infrastructural inertia,” translating into a projected mean warming of 1.3C above the pre-industrial era. Scenarios that assume continued expansion of fossil-fuel-based infrastructure lead to projections of warming of 2.4-4.6C, with atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide greater than 600ppm;
  2. Of energy generating capacity built worldwide since 2000, 31.4% was generated from coal, 33.9% from oil, 17.4% from carbon-free sources, and the remainder from sources e.g. oil and nuclear power;
  3. Nearly one quarter of electrical generating capacity since 2000 is from coal-fired power plants in China; China’s cumulative emissions by the end of this century could exceed 300 Gt of carbon dioxide assuming continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in China;
  4. Satisfying growing energy demand without producing carbon dioxide emissions will require a “truly extraordinary” development and deployment of carbon-free sources of energy, perhaps as much as 30 terrawatts by 2050

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