How much does it cost to reduce carbon emissions? A primer on electricity infrastructure planning in the Age of Climate Change

If you are a sentient and literate human being, there is no way you have been unaffected by the news about climate change. Some people might disbelieve the claim that there is a link between emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and climate change. But most believe it. They therefore agree that we should do everything we can to reduce man-made CO2 emissions. As long as it does not cost too much.

Most people however are not aware that there are real world examples of exactly how to reduce CO2 without major expense. Some countries and jurisdictions pursue very effective CO2-mitigation strategies, without penalizing themselves economically. Others appear to believe that penalizing themselves, via high electricity prices, is the way to reduce CO2. Unfortunately for the latter, they are failing miserably.

And some countries that are paying through the nose to reduce CO2 have actually achieved the opposite of what they intended: in their case, the effect has been to increase CO2 emissions.

What to do? Well, here is a presentation I gave recently, which lays out the criteria for building a low-carbon electricity system without going broke. It shows who has done it right, and who has done it wrong. Have a look: you may be surprised who I am talking about.

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9 years ago

Sadly, the people who most need to internalize this lesson are the ones most likely to ignore it out of hand.

8 years ago

What is the cost for not reducing carbon emissions?

Peter Lang
8 years ago

Very interesting post and presentation. Thank you. I’ll reference this frequently.

What are the costs on the x axis on Slide 9? They seem too high to be LCOE or LRMC in $/MWh. Are they an LCOE for the system including transmission and grid management costs? Or are they an average cost to consumers in $/MWh?

It would also be an improvement to have the units on Emissions intensity figures on the Y axis.

Also, minor point: The quadrants on Slide 4 are numbered differently to the remainder of the slides and text. Itwas a bit confusing until I realised.

Peter Lang
8 years ago

Thank you. Now I understand.

Some others are taking interest in this post, e.g. DeWitt Payne says:

“My fundamental principle of human events is that irony always increases. Slide #13 in your linked article is yet more proof that this is true.”

And the Editor of Science of Doom replied he liked it too.

Peter Lang
8 years ago

Excellent improvements.

However, I suggest ALCARA should not be advocated for the same reasons ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) should not be advocated for allowable radiation limits. Allowable radiation limits should be raised (progressively, over time) to AHARS (as high as relatively safe). For similar reasons, policies for reducing carbon intensity should aim for ‘as low as economically justifiable’. We should not advocate to damage economies because doing so damages human well-being. We can reduce global GHG emissions economically rationally, but not by policies such as carbon pricing or mandating and subsidising renewable energy. Instead, we need to remove the impediments imposed over the past 50 years that have distorted energy markets – especially nuclear energy.

Here’s my explanation of why carbon pricing and any policies that aim to increase energy costs will not succeed:
Part I: “Why carbon pricing will not succeed”

Part II: “Why The World Will Not Agree to Pricing Carbon”

The main chart:

Peter Lang
8 years ago


Could you please provide as link to the CO2 emissions intensities per country you used for Slide 10?

8 years ago
Reply to  Peter Lang

Peter — you can find this info in:

OECD, Electricity Information 2013, p. III.58;
EIA, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, p. 111;
Ontario estimate from IESO and EmissionTrakā„¢