The Big Picture Guidebook 2016

The Big Picture
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The BIG PICTURE, POWER magazine's monthly infographic series, visualizes prominent power generation trends and issues from around the world. Now, find all of these articles in one compiled guidebook.


Delivered in a PDF format.

Articles Include:

Future Coal Fleet

According to the central scenario in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) newly released World Energy Outlook 2015, nearly a third of the world’s currently operating coal plants are slated to be retired over 2015–2040. Most are aging subcritical plants in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Yet, the report predicts that for each coal plant retired, the world will add about two more coal plants—and of those added, more than 40% will feature advanced coal technologies. China—which built 85% of new ultrasupercritical plants added worldwide in 2014—will continue to lead the charge to build new, more efficient coal plants.

GHG Reduction Pledges

Ahead of the climate summit in Paris last December, 187 countries submitted intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), setting out how far they will go to slash their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Here’s what the world’s top 10 GHG emitters pledged. The green bar corresponds with each country’s share of the world’s GHG emissions in 2012.

Drops in Water for Power

Climate change and resulting changes in water resources could affect the usable capacity of 61% to 74% of the world’s existing hydropower plants by 2069, warn researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Thermoelectric plants—including coal, gas, oil, nuclear, biomass, and geothermal plants—will fare much worse, with changes affecting 81% to 86% of existing plants. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, surveys 24,515 hydro and 1,427 existing thermoelectric plants.

Energy for Power

How much energy is consumed to produce power in the U.S.? Here’s a visualization of data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) from a survey of more than 1,900 U.S. power facilities, collected between January 2015 and December 2015. For non-combustible renewable sources, the EIA uses a heat rate of 9.510 Btu/kWh to calculate total consumption of fuel for the purpose of generating electricity. That heat rate is the average heat rate for fossil fuel plants and conceptually represents fossil fuel consumption that is “displaced” by renewable generation, the EIA explained. Notes: MMBtu = one million British thermal units; numbers in parenthesis are a percentage of the total 38,853,274,968 MMBtu consumed in 2015.

Leading the Charge

About 23.9 GW of energy storage is operational, under construction, or under repair in 41 U.S. states and territories for various service uses, and another 5.4 GW has been announced or contracted. Here’s how states with more than 10 MW compare. Storage capacity is rated here in watts—as opposed to watt-hours, energy’s true measure, because most storage projects are pumped hydro (some of them seasonal) or projects that have no clear indication of duration.

A String of Retirements

Power plant retirements have varied wildly over the past decade, both by fuel and capacity, owing to a number of factors.

China’s Power Glut

Over the past decade, driven by a booming energy-intensive industry, China’s thermal power generation capacity has seen a compound annual growth rate of about 11.1%. But now that the country is facing a more sluggish economy and power demand has softened, and as it battles rampant air pollution and has accelerated renewable power capacity additions, it is facing a massive coal power glut. (See also this month’s Commentary at the back of the issue.) The National Energy Administration (NEA), the National Development and Reform Commission’s energy management arm, estimates nearly 300 GW of coal-fired capacity has been approved or is under construction around the country—but it has determined that no more than 190 GW of new capacity will be needed before 2020. In April, the government took the drastic measure to halt construction of coal-fired power plants in 13 provinces where capacity is in surplus and forced developers to stall construction of already approved plants in another 15 provinces.

Nuclear Retirements

About half of the nation’s 99 nuclear reactors operate in competitive wholesale electricity markets. Over the last five years, low natural gas prices, market dynamics, technical issues, and policies that favor renewables have precipitated the closure or announced retirement of 14 U.S. nuclear reactors, some well-ahead of planned lifetimes. More retirements are in the offing: Over 80 commercial reactors have garnered federal licenses to operate for 60 years—but 41 of these are more than 40 years old. The next few years will see only five new nuclear reactors begin production.

Global Emissions Limits

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global coal-fired power generation grew 34% between 2005 and 2015, but total power sector emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter decreased 55%, 34%, and 32% respectively, largely due to stricter emission standards for coal plants worldwide. While some developed countries have regulated coal plant air pollution since the 1970s, many emerging economies have introduced rules over the last decade. Yet, the stringency of power plant emission limits still varies greatly from country to country.

Still in the Dark

An estimated 1.2 billion people—17% of the global population—did not have access to electricity in2013, the latest data from the International Energy Agency show. More than95% of those living without electricity are in countries in subSaharan Africa and developing Asia, and they are predominantly in rural areas (around80% of the world total). Here are five countries per region (developing Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East) that have the largest populations without access to electricity. Also noted is that country’s national electrification rate (%).

Renewable Rankings

The world’s power sector saw its largest annual increase in renewable capacity during 2015, adding 147 GW—more renewable capacity annually than net capacity from fossil fuels combined. According to international research group Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), by the end of 2015, renewables capacity amounted to 1,849 GW, an estimated 28.9% of the world’s power generating capacity—enough to supply an estimated 23.7% of global electricity. Here’s a look at which sources and countries are leading renewable efforts.



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