Understanding Electricity

Published on 12.02.2016
High School

15 min read

is a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Created by the movement of electrons, this source must be generated from a primary source such as , natural gas, , the sun, wind or water.   Electricity is one of the main causes of CO2 emissions, accounting for 42.5% of the world total. The carbon impact of some generation techniques, however, is up to 20 times greater than others. Currently, coal is king, with coal-fired plants generating 41% of the world's electricity output – but also accounting for 80% of CO2 emissions from production. Tomorrow, however, electricity-related emissions could be reduced through the use of renewable energies, which are inexhaustible and less polluting. Given that world electricity production is set to double by 2040, this possibility has become an imperative.     Added to the need to produce more electricity is the issue of cost, which can vary by as much as 700% depending on the used and the cost of capital needed to build the plant. Introducing carbon pricing to offset the cost impact of emissions on the economy will make electricity generation even more expensive.     All of these criteria play a role in determining each country's . At the global level, the has forecast that, by 2040, the share of coal used to generate electricity will have declined from 41% to 30%, while at the same time the share of renewable energies excluding hydropower will have risen proportionally1. The percentage of gas, hydro and nuclear power is projected to remain stable. These estimations are, however, subject to change, particularly depending on global production of .  


  1. Source IEA  



Electricity is used in a wide variety of areas including industry, housing and transportation, such as here for a tram in the city of Toulouse.

Electricity Generation and Related CO2 Emissions

Electricity is essential for industry, buildings and all aspects of daily life. But it has to be generated from a primary energy source, such as coal, natural gas, uranium, the sun, wind or water. The methods used to produce electricity also make it the main source of global CO2 emissions. For this reason, the choice of generation technology will play a decisive role in reducing electricity's environmental footprint, especially considering that coal, at one end of the spectrum, has a carbon impact 20 times greater than renewables, at the other.

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What Is the Power Generation Mix?

The power generation mix (also known as the electricity mix) refers to the combination of the various fuels used to generate electricity in a given geographic region. It is still dominated by coal at the global level. However, this situation is expected to change significantly over the next 20 years with the sharp rise in the use of renewable energies and natural gas.

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Saving Energy at the Individual Level

While large-scale energy savings can only be achieved through government initiatives and specific regulations, individuals can still play a role in reducing their own consumption. Home automation technology and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are two accessible and effective solutions to guide consumers toward greater energy efficiency.

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