Inefficient transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure that results in losses as electricity travels from supplier to customer contributes to compensatory power generation and therefore to unanticipated GHG emissions. Pilferage, poor planning and management in the T&D system also contribute to losses that can increase total electricity generation. Because the combination of electricity generation, combined heat and power generation and heat plants account for over 40% of global GHG emissions1, mitigation efforts tend to focus on electricity generated rather than delivered. We combine life cycle assessments of power generation with uncertainty analysis to bound potential emissions from compensatory generation from T&D aggregate losses (that is, technical and non-technical) in 142 countries. We estimate that electricity generated due to losses from T&D infrastructure is associated with nearly 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (GtCO2e yr–1). Our global average estimates for potential emissions reductions that may be achieved by improvements in technical losses and aggregate losses are 411 and 544 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (MtCO2e yr–1), respectively. By reducing T&D losses, not only may compensatory emissions be reduced, but more electricity from low-carbon power-plant investments may reach the intended consumers.
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We are grateful for feedback from B. Hobbs on an early version of this paper and for comments from J. Huenteler. V. Specioso, a graduate student at the School for Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, provided research support for the literature review and data collection.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Maryam Arbabzadeh, Anders Arvesen, Constantine Samaras and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Surana, K., Jordaan, S.M. The climate mitigation opportunity behind global power transmission and distribution. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 660–665 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0544-3
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