SS FORUM #1: Beyond LCA: An Analysis of the Emission Implications of Strategies Targeting Reductions in Coal Consumption in the Power System

Event Type: 
Guest Lecture
Dr. Paulina Jaramillo
Friday, September 14, 2012 - 2:30pm to 4:00pm
1040 Dana Building
Event Sponsor: 
Center for Sustainable Systems
School of Natural Resources and Environment
Chrysler Corporation Fund

Dr. Paulina Jaramillo
Assistant Research Professor,
Department of Engineering
 and Public Policy,
Carnegie Mellon University

Executive Director,
RenewElec Project

Previous life cycle assessment (LCA) studies using limited system boundaries have attempted to quantify the benefit of offsetting coal use. However, these studies do not consider the operations of the power grid and how changes to the operations of individual power plants will affect the system. In this study, simplified economic dispatch models (representing existing power plants in a given region) and historical load data are used to determine how natural gas and coal utilization will change short-term in response to changes in natural gas prices and the retirement of coal power plants. The associated changes in fuel mix, life cycle GHG emissions, and sulfur and nitrogen oxides are reported. Results indicate that the change in air emissions are lower than suggested by life cycle assessment studies. In addition, while net reductions of SO2 and NOx occur in the systems analyzed, some counties will likely see increases in the damage costs associated with these emissions. This study shows that traditional life cycle studies overestimate the benefits of fuel switching and that incorporating the operations of energy systems is needed to properly capture these benefits.