Is Thermal Power Electricity decreasing at last?

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Since 1992 when United Nations created their Framework Convention on Climate Change, a list of annual conferences has been held to try to agree on a reduction of the use of Thermal Power, in order to decrease the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

According to international agreements, the most famous are the ones held in Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009) and Paris (2015).

However, there is a huge gap between those agreements and the reality, for very different reasons. Please, have a look at the dynamic graph below where you can see how the Electricity produced from Thermal Power sources has evolved between 1985 and 2018 per region:

Part of the coal-fired power plants and oil power plants are indeed being shut down. However, only a small part of their electricity is substituted by carbon-free energy sources. The rest is provided by more gas power plants, which offer more flexibility and emit less CO2. The majority of the new renewable capacity is covering the constant increase in total demand.

And there are many opinions and forecasts about how the future will be. One of the best supported is the analysis done by International Energy Agency at their IEA World Energy Outlook 2019:

Global Electricity production (TWh) by source. Forecast includes new Climate Change Policies

The share of Thermal Power in the mix will decrease from 64% to 49%, which looks good. Nevertheless, as the total generation is expected to grow from 26,600 TWh up to 40,700 TWh per year, the total fossil electricity will grow in TWh on 17%.

This increase will impact international commitments to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. There are mainly 3 factors that drive this situation:

  1. 1. A steady increase in Electricity demand, both per country and on a global basis
  2. 2. The required investment on renewables to get rid of Thermal Power Plants is huge and we need too much time to fund it
  3. 3. Lack of flexibility of Thermal Power Plants, which forces curtailment of renewables and limit their integration in the mix

COVID has impacted in electricity demand and showed growth in demand may be reduced. But this is hopefully a temporary situation. Whenever heavy industry comes back, we will likely recover the figures of the past.

Money is limited and the balance between profitability and social impact limit investment. And some big subsidizing programs will end during these years (e.g. Germany or the USA).

So the most cost-effective action and with an immediate effect is increasing the flexibility of thermal power plants. They are going to coexist with renewables for many years so we must change our minds. They are seen as the devil and so any investment on them is not well considered. But, either if you like it or not, such investment will help us to decrease expected CO2 emissions.

A great tool to increase the share of renewables is, surprisingly, investing in thermal power plants!