The world’s current power infrastructure

Both the IEA and CARMA put the number of power plants worldwide at about 50,000. Of these, the IEA carries information on about 2,300 coal-fired plants that use about 7,000 individual generators. However, Platts UDI Directory has listings for over 160,000 electricity generating power units.

The typical size of a coal fired power plant is 500 megawatts. China has over 600 coal fired power plants and is building more. Depending on which urban legend you’re listening to, it’s either one a week, two a week, one every 10 days, or maybe one every 30 seconds…

The number of producing oil wells has fallen under a million–it would appear that there are more than 800,000, down from almost a million 20 years ago. The oil is refined in about 700 refineries around the world.

There are 435 nuclear power plants either in operation or under construction in the world as of January 2012. The United States has about 124 of them, France about 85.

Although there are about 800,000 dams worldwide, only about 45,000 of them are considered large enough for commercial hydroelectric power. (Global Markets for Renewable Energy, BCC Research, 2010)

There appear to be a bit more than 200,000 wind turbines operating around the world. (Based on a 20% market share attributed to Vestas, which claims to have sold 39,000 turbines worldwide.)

Platts UDI also has listings for more than 8,500 simple-cycle, combined-cycle, and gas turbine plants worldwide.

There are probably several hundred solar power plants throughout the world, although their total energy contribution is quite small in the scheme of things.

That’s what we’re working with. It creates 500 quads of primary energy for us to use and abuse. It cost a lot of money, it takes a lot of space, and it creates a lot of pollution–a lot of which is CO2.

So let’s play mix, match and build. How do we want to configure a portfolio of energy sources that will provide six times as much energy?

3 responses to “The world’s current power infrastructure

  1. To add to your mix, you should add geothermal. It isn’t anywhere near the scale of the steamers, but a lot bigger than windfarms, particularly in the Ring of Fire. In both the Philipines and Indonesia, they are major energy sources. In New Zealand, they are more important than coal, though behind hydo and CCGTs.
    But I agree with your basic argument; to sensibly increase the available energy, which is needed to satisfy the aspirations of the third world/ developing countries, one has to increase the number and size of power plants. Closing coal plants in the US isn’t going to get Africa out of poverty, no matter what effect on climate it has. The only rational plan is building more plants and increasing efficiency.
    The one that shows the most prospect as the 21st Century energy source is Thorium powered reactors, with perhaps pebble beds coming second. Any other type of plant rapidly runs into resource limitations as well as environmental constraints, though CCGTs on shale gas will get us through the next 25 years OK.

    • Thanks, Chris. Yeah, I didn’t talk about geothermal for the same reason I didn’t talk about the business I’m in–residential solar. It’s hard to see how we make a dent on the overall equation over the next couple of decades–but I’ll be posting about both of them shortly.

  2. Pingback: The World's Current Power Infrastructure | AllWest Energy | Solar & Wind Electric Systems

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