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Historical and potential future contributions of power technologies to global warming

Lenzen, Manfred, Schaeffer, Roberto
Climatic change 2012 v.112 no.3-4 pp. 601-632
emissions, global warming, history, issues and policy, risk reduction, temperature
Using the mathematical formalism of the Brazilian Proposal to the IPCC, we analyse eight power technologies with regard to their past and potential future contributions to global warming. Taking into account detailed bottom-up technology characteristics we define the mitigation potential of each technology in terms of avoided temperature increase by comparing a “coal-only” reference scenario and an alternative low-carbon scenario. Future mitigation potentials are mainly determined by the magnitude of installed capacity and the temporal deployment profile. A general conclusion is that early technology deployment matters, at least within a period of 50–100 years. Our results conclusively show that avoided temperature increase is a better proxy for comparing technologies with regard to their impact on climate change, and that numerous short-term comparisons based on annual or even cumulative emissions may be misleading. Thus, our results support and extend the policy relevance of the Brazilian Proposal in the sense that not only comparisons between countries, but also comparisons between technologies could be undertaken on the basis of avoided temperature increase rather than on the basis of annual emissions as is practiced today.