Electricity emissions around the world

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.

Carbon Intensity of ElectricityClick 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.

Residential electricity per capita by country

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.

Electricity emissions around the globe

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.


Related posts:

How do we use electricity?

Average household electricity around the world

30 Day Shrink Guide
  • http://about.me/cybergabi cybergabi

    While it’s true that France probably has rather low carbon emissions due to the prevalence of nuclear power, they create a different problem with this method of energy generation: Nuclear waste. This type of waste has an extremely long life, and it’s, above all, dangerous to humans and wildlife the like. I think this graphic, while factually correct, is misleading because of this.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I have some sympathy with your point, though I’m not sure I’m being misleading. If I was going into non carbon effects of different fuel sources then the health impacts of coal would be far greater than nuclear. I’m no great lover of nuclear but there are numerous serious climate scientists that perceive it as posing far smaller risks to humanity than any fossil fuels. Hansen is the latest.

      • clearnonuclear

        Agree – coal is sure worse than nuclear, but..
        1/ nuclear is subvenced for dozens of years and still represents only small part of wrld production, being still more and more expensive
        2/ nuclear is far from being zero-carbon (though being called so often)
        3/ there are not unlimited supplies of uranium
        4/ next to waste and disaster problematic – there is the one with concentration – which is allways problem (concentric power to big company/government..)
        5/ problematic of environments – human – terrorist, bad-ass-hackers, human failure, etc risks – natural – need for huge amounts of water for cooling, more severe and often natural disasters as floods, tornadoes, +earthquakes,..

        6/ Among biggest problems I see is practically stable, non variable non controlable source – which makes it hardly compatible with RES..

        To me its quite clear solution is in most of energy produced by wind, sun, hydro.. +ideally biomass to cover fluctuations non-coverable by system size (the bigger, more diversified, the less fluctuations) and smart grids.. later some energy storage (today too exp+env problematic – mean lithium – but even now there are hydro cells in work..)

        • Lindsay Wilson

          Hillarious I find myself ‘defending’ nuclear, as I’m not really the biggest fan. I essentially agree with each point you’ve raised, except perhaps no 2. Of course there are no zero carbon energy sources from a full lifecycle perspective, but in LCAs nuclear typically comes in lower than solar, and sometimes below wind in the 20-30g/kWh range http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/shrink-your-housing-footprint (second last chart). But on the whole, I agree with you. Also not a fan of hydro near fault lines

        • Bern

          @clearnonuclear, you seem to have some misapprehensions regarding nuclear. While it’s not a technology without risk, I’d like to add a few comments:
          1) Nuclear is expensive, only in that the typical nuclear power plant is absolutely huge in terms of power generation. A typical reactor might have a 1,000MW electrical output. For comparison, the largest single coal-fired unit here in Australia is only 750MW. A typical new wind turbine might produce ~5MW at peak, but probably averages a third of that. The end result is that the cost of producing a unit of electricity from nuclear is about the same (or less, according to some studies) than onshore wind, and substantially cheaper that offshore wind and solar. Note: that includes fuel & insurance costs for nuclear.
          You also need to consider the over-build required for renewables. To cover those few hours/days per year where the wind isn’t blowing much and it’s cloudy, you need to overbuild your renewables by a factor of about 12. That’s because on some days, you’ll only get about 8% of your ‘nameplate capacity’ out of your wind/solar system. Basically, you need to build 12,000MW of wind/solar to replace 1,000MW of coal, unless you back it up with something else (which is mostly gas due to the rapid start-up and load-following capability – in Australia, at least, there’s nearly as much gas-fired generation being built as there is renewables, and I suspect it’s much the same elsewhere).
          2) IPCC figures: onshore wind, 12 gCO2/kWHe. nuclear, 16 gCO2/kWHe. Solar thermal, 22 gCO2/kWHe. Solar PV 46 gCO2/kWHe. So Nuclear is almost as ‘zero carbon’ as wind, and is substantially better in that regard than solar.
          3) Not unlimited, no, but the ‘high level waste’ stored at reactors around the world is mostly ‘spent fuel’, which is actually still usually 95% unburnt Uranium. Feed it into fast-spectrum breeder reactors (suggest year read up on the Integral Fast Reactor, or IFR – a prototype in the US operated for 30+ years), and you can power the world for several hundred years on just the ‘spent fuel’ we have sitting around. (Fast reactors can also burn weapons-grade material as fuel, forever destroying the ability to build a bomb from it.) There are estimated easily-recoverable reserves of 5.5 million tons of Uranium, plus another 35 million tons of lower-grade ores that would cost a little more, plus an estimated 4-5 *billion* tonnes of Uranium dissolved in the oceans. At current rates of mining, the high-grade ores alone are good for a century of extraction, and as noted above we’re currently using less than 5% of that fuel before throwing it away.
          4) sounds like an ideological argument to me, as to whether big government / big corporations are ever a good idea. Not going to get into this one, as it’s a thorny issue that needs far more space to discuss properly.
          5) risk factors: nuclear reactors are probably among the safest places around, when it comes to security. (No, that doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable, but there are much, much softer targets around that would be just as devastating if attacked). Design standards are ridiculously strong, too – containment buildings in the US can withstand impact from a large fully-loaded airliner without breach of containment. Environmental risk: at least one nuclear plant has sat through a major hurricane with no significant damage. One plant tripped out during Hurricane Sandy last year, but that was because the electrical switchyard was shorted by flying debris, not because of any damage or risk to the reactor. I’d hate to think of the damage to a wind or solar facility if a major hurricane hit…
          Technology risk: (e.g. meltdowns) – again, recommend you read up on IFRs, or Thorium reactors. The fast breeder prototype in the US underwent several tests that essentially paralleled what happened in Chernobyl & Fukushima – complete loss of cooling to the core. The breeder reactor, because of the physics of it’s operation, shut itself down with no intervention by safety systems (manual *or* automatic), and remained many hundreds of degrees below the fuel melting point. Some older reactor types (such as the Fukushima ones) need constant care & attention after shutdown, and I’d be quite happy to see them replaced with new designs that look after themselves in an emergency.
          6) The only low-carbon source that would completely complement the variable nature of wind/solar generation is hydro. Given the limited ability to expand hydro (many countries have built just about all they can, given environmental & water supply constraints), this means that if you want to use every possible kWHe of wind/solar generated, you have to back it up with something else, usually open cycle gas turbines. The effect of this is that your ‘zero carbon’ system ends up burning a lot of gas, and the emission intensity climbs up into hundreds of gCO2/kWHe. If you’re willing to ‘throttle’ your renewable generation a bit, you can easily load-follow with a combination of nuclear + renewables (many nuclear reactors can vary electrical output pretty fast, they just don’t normally because it increases the cost per kWHe generated).

          To be 100% clear: I’m in favour of expansion of renewables, I think they can contribute significantly to reducing our carbon footprint. But look at the charts in the article above, and do some research. The dark green countries are predominantly hydro – except for France, which is >80% nuclear, with lower emission intensity per capita than some hydro countries, and less than a tenth that of the US or Australia (and the US would be about 30% higher if it didn’t get so much electricity from nuclear reactors).

          • clearnonuclear

            1/ so how it happens UK would have to give more than 2*more than is market-price (for 40-60years) to build new reactors? (and still with old way of insurance – few percents of real).
            Overbuild RES? This you have to do if you dont have enough hydro (most countries) but only with really high percentage of RES or dont have affordable storage – and more diversification in bigger market (grid) makes the need lower and lower. To overbuild capacity 12times is naturally madnes.. Naturally gas seems as best solution for cooperation with RES (not nuclear). Also in most (at least EU) countries main problem is with seasonal differences (winter=bigger consumption with little sun, while little bigger winds).
            So yes I could believe Nuclear can beat RES (exc hydro) in price today but the difference is still smaller. And – if you plan to build nuclear plant -you will have it in lets say 20years and than functioning for another 40-60 (or even 80) ears – In this horizont seeing nuclear (while it seems stricter regulations are coming, res prices falling and energy storage starting to appear) as cheap is little crazy to me..
            2/ sure nuclear is less CO2 producing than RES (maybe exc hydro again) but there are just other problems by nuclear..
            3/ that “resource” as you see “spent fuel” (extremely dangerous waste in real) is still a waste till it is not used to produce energy. As you said 30+years prototype and? 30+years of RD and? Its terribly expensive and not used in broad sense, being too untrusted to..
            5/ most safe places around hmm, try to ask at Fukushima..It is safe place but potential disaster is as huge that it outweigh all the safety measures (there will allways be risk, allways be way to threat nuclear plant) its hard to imagine bigger potential threat than nuclear facility in all human society.. – And as long as there is reasonable amount of reactors working there will allways be nuclear disasters..
            You mentioned lower price (which is arguable even now to me) – but still talking about safety of completely different reactors with completely different price..
            Next to hydro as suitable for cooperation with RES is biomass and biogas (as res itself) with some adittional nat.gas sources..but doesnt seem as need to burn any huge amounts of gas – (problem is naturally the price gets higher when its used only as backup).
            But – you need backup for Nuclear too. You need maintanance shutdowns, refueling shutdowns, sometimes emergency shutdowns.. These are much more radical interventions to grid parity than floating RES production..

            To me Nuclear really isn`t suitable next to RES, it is expensive and with huge risks (today still not included in prices). Money were pushed for dozens of years in RnD and? still disasters, still no cold fusion, still using good old technology,.. By RES you can see how just one country (mean DE) pushed its prices down and RD up, pushing prices down and performance up.. If time wasted with nuclear was invested in RES dozens of years before we would need no nuclear now.
            You said 4/ is ideological – yes – because ideology is what pushes Nuclear – it is in favour of big companies and governments who hold power over source of energy (which is more and more source of metaforically everything)..

            In any case hope Australia will be able to get rid of all that coal production whether it is with nuclear or res (or combination – but there are really scarce examples where these two walk together in a greater extent).. Sure you have good conditions fore res so really wouldnt be affraid about your energeticall future.
            Wish you less severe summer than the last one..

            PS: To make it clear – Im from Czech republic – we have >30% from nuclear, politics are pushing another 2reactors (to 50-60%) preparing guaranteed price for its electricity while stopping subventions for res..
            Another >50% we have from coal – while we dont need to in real (we are big energy exporter). All nuclear and most of coal sources owns 1 energetical giant CEZ which rulez our politics more than vice versa..
            (so yea it really is ideologicall problematics to me)
            (and sorry for not being more specific, giving some numbers sources etc – just lazy to invest more time in this – mostly couse this topic makes me angry because of our politics..)

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  • http://www.kartano.blogspot.com Matti

    Notice that Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland are all arctic countries where most of the electricity goes in to heating up homes during long winters. It’s a bit unfair to even try and reduce the electricity usage of these countries to the level of warmer countries like Germany, France or Italy.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I can tell you mean proper cold when you refer to Germany as a warmer country. On climate adjusted heating demand most Nordic countries do very well, because they have much better efficiency standards. To be honest demand doesn’t bother me, carbon is the issue. Norway and Sweden are both down around 150kg CO2/cap, considering the climate and that they don’t use much gas for heating that is a real triumph. Which is hydro in Norway and hydro/nuclear in Sweden

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  • James

    Nice work Lindsay – what software did you use to create the informative charts and maps?

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Those three are all in Tableau, which is very fast. I also use Illustrator quite a lot

  • Carla Valdetaro

    Brazil seems to be a tiny dot in the chart….It could be smaller with solar energy generation. It’s very expensive to houses and familiar buildings to set up solar generation install here. But it’s easy to figure out how we could improve energy generation with solar and wind energy here.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Its just the combination of not using much electricity, 556 kWh per cap, and so much hydro power

    • Carla Valdetaro

      True, our main energy supply is hydro power. You know there is a big lobby here to convince people to leave hydro power and use termo electricity? We don’t need coal or oil eletricity. But we do need more energy and solar/wind is still too expensive.

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  • Randy

    Because Norway is gets a huge amount of power from hydro, and has a very clean grid, using electricity to heat homes is very clean and efficient.

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  • NorskeDiv

    Tell me, what fission reaction creates CO2? This is news to me and doubtless many nuclear scientists. If people like you are the best the pro-fossil fuel greenwashing side has, then it seems you have already lost the argument.

    In the off chance you mean the CO2 created for the steel and concrete required, then wind is just as guilty as it requires even more steel and concrete per KWH.

    As to Biomass, one of the most dirty forms of electricity production, I’d rather just stick with natural gas. Less fine particulate solution, less land usage and less crowding out of food production.

    • Richard Werkhoven

      “Tell me, what fission reaction creates CO2?” Ha Ha Ha – nice attempt at humour.

      Now in the real world where real people know more than fission reactions and know that nuclear power is not fission reaction in empty space and involves other factors:

      1. Uranium processing has been a CO2 intensive operation. In the US one processing plant was running off a large percentage of the output of 2 coal power plants.

      2. Did it occur to your myopic nuclear nuts that there are things like the transport to and from the power plant etc. etc.

      Which OK you chose to head off (somewhat stupidly) the construction, but none of this obviates the “nuclear is far from being zero-carbon” statement.

      Truth hurts doesn’t it.

      What was left out is that Nuclear (and pretty much any other power gen method) is a warming source even without the CO2 factor.

      Yeah – waiting for the tirade of abuse and claims that I “just don’t understand”. I’ve heard them BTW from the nuclear cheer squad. They always lose the argument – but not without wailing and gnashing of teeth first.