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Emissions from the electricity sector hit minimums in times of coronavirus

It’s not all bad news in times of coronavirus. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electricity sector reached historic lows in March, according to data from Red Eléctrica de España. This achievement is a consequence of the economic stoppage forced by Covid-19, but only in part. “There has been the typical fall in electricity demand during periods of crisis, but this comes hand in hand with efforts to decarbonise the electricity mix,” says Mariano Marzo, professor at the University of Barcelona. CO2 is the main gas causing global warming.

In March, the Spanish peninsular electricity system emitted 1.85 million tons of CO2, with an average of 0.09 tons of CO2 per Mwh generated. This is 30% less compared to the same month in 2019. Just five years ago, the sector’s average emissions in March were 0.17 tons of CO2 per Mwh generated, almost double that of last March. The comparison is made with the same month because the electricity consumption varies depending on the time of year.

Figures

76% of electricity production came from technologies that do not emit CO2

The factors that explain this historical data are mainly three. The main one is the closure or transformation of coal-fired power plants, one of the main culprits of the climate crisis.

“Most have switched to running on gas, which emits much less CO2 and whose price has also fallen by half these days,” says Heikki Willstedt, director of Energy Policies and Climate Change at the Wind Business Association (PREPA). In March of this year, coal accounted for only 2.4% of electricity generation, compared to 4.2% in the same month last year. That is, half.

Coal has been replaced by gas, but the weight of wind and solar photovoltaics in the electricity mix has also increased. Wind generated 27.6% of electricity, and photovoltaics, 5%. This last energy source has practically doubled its generation capacity from 2018 to 2019 thanks to the 4,158 new MW that were installed last year. With the help of other renewables and nuclear, 75.6% of electricity production came from technologies that do not emit CO2 in March.

The third factor is the fall in demand. In March, the peninsular demand for electricity fell by 4.6% compared to the same month of 2019, to 20,924 GWh hour, weighed down by the closure of factories and companies due to the current state of health alarm due to Covid-19. But the fall in electricity demand has been accumulating declines for a few months. “Large energy-intensive industries, such as steel or aluminum, have been reducing their consumption since the end of last year because they are going through a bad time,” says Willstedt.

Electricity sector

The reduction in the whole year can exceed 20%

The director of Energy Policies and Climate Change of AEE predicts that the electricity sector “will end the year with a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 20%, meeting the objectives in the fight against climate change”. “Neither mobility nor buildings – the other two major sources of greenhouse gases – can say the same,” adds the expert.

The big challenge is to maintain current emissions levels when the economy recovers. “We must be able to grow without increasing emissions and this is only possible by being more efficient,” he says. In this sense, it calls for commitment to efficiency.

Source: The Vanguard