Clean Power

Published on June 20th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Electricity Emissions Around The World (Maps)

June 20th, 2013 by  

Here’s one final repost (for the day) from our friend Lindsay Wilson of Shrink That Footprint:

By Lindsay Wilson

Electricity emissions are a function of two things: how much electricity is used and how carbon intensive that electricity is. Using data from 60 countries this post explains how our electricity emissions vary around the world.

The carbon intensity of electricity

The carbon intensity of electricity varies greatly depending on fuel source.

As a rough guide, coal has a carbon intensity of about 1,000g CO2/kWh, oil is 800g CO2/kWh, natural gas is around 500g CO2/kWh, while nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar are all less than 50 g CO2/kWh. I’ve graphed them previously.

The carbon intensity of grid electricity is determined by the fuel mix used in generation. Using figures from the IEA, I’ve produced a map to show just how different the carbon intensity of electricity is around the world.

Click image to expand

Click image to expand

In the countries colored dark green like Norway, Iceland, and Paraguay, the direct emissions from electricity generation are less than 20g CO2/kWh, because of the dominance of hydroelectricity, and some geothermal in Iceland. In India, Mongolia, and South Africa, the dark red coloring indicates electricity emissions of more than 900g CO2/kWh, due to coal’s dominance.

Most other countries use a mix of generation sources, so they are somewhere in between.

Residential electricity use

The second component of electricity emissions is the amount of electricity used.

For this example we will use residential electricity demand, as we want to compare the emissions caused by household electricity use. Residential electricity demand accounts for roughly a third of total electricity demand and varies considerably from country to country.

We can show just how great these differences are using a treemap, where the size of each rectangle represents the residential electricity demand per capita.

Click image to expand

Click image to expand

Norway has the biggest usage at almost 8,000 kWh per person. Americans, Finnish, Canadian, and Swedish all use more than 4,000 kWh each. While places like Cameroon, India, and Tanzania use as little as 100 kWh per person, so their rectangles are barely visible.

Electricity emissions around the world

Now that we have data for the carbon intensity of electricity and how much people use in their homes, we can compare residential electricity emissions.

For this comparison we will also account for the emissions caused by grid losses using World Bank data but won’t include upstream emissions from things like fuel production, processing, or equipment manufacturing.

The results are revealing.

Click image to expand

Click image to expand

The largest footprints are from those countries that both use a lot of electricity and have quite carbon intensive electricity. Of the sixty or so countries we analysed, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Australia had by far the largest emissions at more than 2,500 kg per person.

In stark contrast, Iceland, Paraguay, and Ethiopia each registered 0 kg, due to their incredibly low carbon power. Notably, Norway which uses almost double the residential electricity per capita as the US, has emissions of just 152kg per person.  In contrast, India has more carbon intensive electricity than the US, but emits just 135kg per person due to such limited electricity use.

It is also interesting that Chinese emissions are just 331 kg per person despite their high coal use. This highlights just how small the residential share of electricity use is in China. A quick look at IEA stats shows that Chinese residents use just 18% of generated electricity — in the US, that figure is 38%.

The calculations used in this post can easily be used to approach your own electricity footprint.

In the coming months, I’ll publish some posts looking both at how we can cut our electricity use and source low-carbon power.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • Joe

    It is a very good map indicating energy usage around the world, but it doesn’t distinguish the amount of renewable energy in comparison, prior to solar installation. There are many arguments around the world that say the solar energy hasn’t reduced or deducted energy from fossil fuels. One of the most recent arguments on solar energy is that solar energy is still dependent on fossil fuels and if fossil fuels was turned off solar energy wouldn’t work, given the void time.

  • Victor Provenzano

    The data here on net carbon emissions for tropical nations that rely on hydroelectric power may be quite inaccurate, especially in the case of emerging market nations like Brazil. Tropical hydro has net carbon emissions that are higher than those of coal because of the methane that is released by the submerged trees, plants, and organic matter.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Eh, that submerged vegetation does rot away. Early in the life of a dam methane is going to be released but that will taper off as the submerged vegetation is used up.

      One needs to use a lifetime footprint and not a “worst year” measurement.

  • Too bad there’s not a state by state map. I suspect it is only the five dirty states (with 90% or over coal-power) that even makes the US pink. If you count hydro, and this map does ie in New Zealand, the majority of US states are actually pretty green with unlikely green states like hydro-rich Idaho and the the Dakotas.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Hi Susan. I’ve missed you around these parts.

      If you’ve got time I’d like to hear about renewables in NZ. I’m sure Zach would like to publish something on the area.

      • Lazy

        Doesn’t look good, using all that amount of energy in United States per-person. I thought you said that solar power reduces loading, the map quietly clearly identifies solar power increases loading.

  • JamesWimberley

    Praiseworthy effort.
    I suggest the final bubble chart is not efficient. The colour codes are pointless – we know what continent the bubbles relate to from the map. So better use the colours to indicate something that isn’t already obvious, like absolute magnitude. Or switch round, and have the bubble size correspond to absolute emissions, and the colours to ranges of emissions per capita. So China and the USA would have huge bubbles, as they are the two biggest emitters; but of different colours, as the US has much higher emissions per capita than China..

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Yep, you’ve got a point. The continent colours were a hangover from the second chart. Not sure I would find absolute useful, perhaps the mix

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