News & Media

Coal power in the CDM: Does it make sense?

Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrint

Written by Marion Davis

Tuesday, 08 November 2011 01:09

Tata Mundra coal plant under construction, India. / FLICKR-Joe Athialy

A new SEI study identifies flaws in the crediting rules under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that could lead to the issuance of hundreds of millions of carbon credits to coal plants for emission reductions that may not be real and additional.

The CDM is designed to support a wide range of projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that technologies and practices that might not otherwise be viable in developing countries can get a boost from the sale of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), and thereby come to fruition. By purchasing those CERs, meanwhile, businesses and governments in other countries can reach their emissions targets less expensively than if they only relied on their own mitigation efforts.

Higher-efficiency coal power plants currently qualify for the CDM, and there are 45 such projects in the CDM pipeline: 32 in India and 13 in China, including five in India and one in China that are already registered. The Indian projects all use “supercritical” technology, an improvement over “sub-critical” boilers, and the Chinese projects use “ultra-subcritical” technology, one step above that.

Yet those technologies have become common practice for new coal plants, the SEI study found, largely for reasons other than CERs, such as rising coal prices and government mandates. That means the emission reductions claimed by the CDM pipeline projects may not be additional, as required.

If all 45 projects are approved and perform as planned, they would produce nearly 80 GW of power and emit more than 400 million tCO2 per year, by the developers’ own estimates – as much as the annual CO2 emissions of countries such as France, Spain and South Africa.


Flaws in the methodology
Along with additionality concerns, the study identifies flaws in the CDM methodology that could lead to over-crediting of roughly 250% for coal plants. The flaws are “deep and systematic”, Lazarus said, and are due to unanticipated issues in both design and application of the methodology.

“The spirit in which the methodology was created was laudable,” said Lazarus. It was designed to promote “only the top performers”, he noted, and to be conservative in gauging emission reductions by requiring two measures to be used, with only the lower value credited. But along with the over-crediting concerns, it also has a “signal to noise ratio” problem – it does not account for factors other than boiler technology that can have an equally large impact on plant efficiency and emissions.

Policymakers under pressure
SEI is not the first to find flaws in ACM0013. Earlier this year, the CDM’s Methodologies Panel of technical experts identified problems and called for an immediate suspension of the methodology.

The Methodologies Panel commissioned a new analysis, which is expected to be released shortly, and will be discussed by the CDM Executive Board at its next meeting, starting 21 November. Meanwhile, European Union officials are discussing whether new project type restrictions are needed to protect the integrity of the EU’s climate mitigation goals.

A fundamental question
Lazarus said the study’s findings suggest there are likely to be mechanisms more appropriate than the CDM for addressing coal power emissions.

“Given the limited amount of climate finance available for the foreseeable future, and the fact that new, conventional coal power threatens our ability to meet global climate stabilization goals, it would seem unwise to support such projects through the CDM,” he said.
Share this page:
Facebook MySpace Twitter Digg Delicious RSS Feed