The carbon footprint of electricity production – May 2024

The monthly emissions from each power plant in Greece are estimated based on the latest available electricity production data (May 2024 for the interconnected network and April 2024 for the non-interconnected islands) and the annual CO2 emissions from ETS (2023), following the methodology and assumptions presented here.

 Carbon intensity of electricity production

Carbon intensity* is an important indicator of the decarbonization of the power sector. Low carbon intensity means a cleaner electricity production mix, decarbonized from the polluting fossil fuels.

The progress that has already been made can be seen from the large reduction in carbon intensity over the last decade. From 2013 – the year when the third phase of the ETS began, phasing out free carbon emission allowances for electricity production – until 2019, carbon intensity fluctuated above 500 g CO2/kWh. The highest annual average carbon intensity in the last decade was recorded in 2014 (875 g CO2/kWh).

However, 10 years later, carbon intensity is almost 3 times lower (315 g CO2/kWh), thanks to the great 80.6% reduction in lignite production between 2013 and 2023.

Progress continues into 2024: during the first five months of the year, the average carbon intensity fell further to 267 g CO2/kWh. May in particular was the month with the lowest monthly carbon intensity to date (231 g CO2/kWh), as it was accompanied by a historic low of monthly lignite production (50 GWh). The second lowest monthly carbon intensity to date was in September 2023 (255 g CO2/kWh), when the third lowest lignite production (187 GWh) was recorded at least since the 1970s.

Emissions in 2024 could have been reduced even further if RES curtailments had been avoided and the corresponding quantity of energy was allocated to limit the production of gas plants. A total of 430 GWh were curtailed by May (49 in March, 259 in April and 122 in May). Taking into account the carbon intensity of these months, the emission of 100 thousand tons of CO2 could have been avoided – an amount equal to the total emissions by the Elpedison Thisvi fossil gas plant in the first five months of 2024.

Emissions per fuel

In May 2024, emissions from electricity production plants fell below 1 million tons (0.95), as was the case in April. This has only happened two more times in the last decade (April 2022 and May 2023).

In total, in the first five months of 2024 an estimated 5.47 million tons of CO2 were emitted for electricity production. Emissions from fossil gas plants reached almost 50% of the country’s total (2.71 million tons or 49.6%) and exceeded those from lignite plants (1.85 million tons or 33.8%). The share of oil plants was much smaller (0.91 million tons or 16.7%).

Emissions from the electricity production sector decreased by 0.34 million tons (or -5.9%) in the first five months of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023. This is mostly due to the reduction in emissions from lignite (-0.98 million tons or -34.7%), which in turn was the result of a 32% decrease in electricity production from lignite plants.

On the contrary, emissions from fossil gas plants increased significantly (+0.64 million tons or +31.1%), due to the corresponding increase of 36.9% in electricity production from fossil gas. Finally, emissions from oil plants were almost the same as the five-month period of 2023 (-0.01 million tons or 0.8%).

Compared to the five-year average, total emissions in the first five months of 2024 decreased by 2.74 million tons (-33.4%). The decrease came from all three fuels, with the largest being from lignite (-2.65 million tons or -58.9%). It is noteworthy that at the beginning of the five-year period (2019), emissions from lignite plants (7.96 million tons) were more than four times higher compared to the first five months of 2024. Oil followed in decrease (-0.19 million tons or -16.2%), while fossil gas recorded a small increase for the first time (+0.09 million tons or 3.5%).

Emissions per thermal power plant

In terms of the distribution of emissions among power plants, the lignite power plant of Agios Dimitrios retained the 1st place in the first five months of 2024, emitting 1.42 million tons of CO2 (76.8% of the total lignite emissions). In 2024, three of its five units (III-V), those covering the district heating of the city of Kozani, were in operation, while in May only unit V was in operation.

Ptolemaida 5 fell to 4th place (0.39 million tons), as it had zero lignite production in May. The third lignite plant, Meliti, which had zero production for the third consecutive month, came in 22nd place with 0.04 million tons.

The fossil gas plant Megalopoli V (0.43 million tons) was second in total emissions, followed by Agios Nikolaos II which emitted 0.42 million tons. Six other fossil gas plants were placed 5th to

10th in the ranking, while in total fossil gas-fired plants accounted for 60% (59.5%) of the emissions from thermal plants in the country’s interconnected grid (lignite and fossil gas together).

In the non-interconnected islands, the three oil stations located in Crete (Aterinolakkos, Linoperamata and Chania) were the top polluters with emissions of 0.22, 0.17 and 0.09 million tons respectively in the first five months of 2024. Cumulatively, the top three polluting oil stations represent 51.6% of the total emissions in the non-interconnected islands. They are 11th, 12th and 15th respectively in the general ranking of all thermal power plants in the country in terms of emissions.

Emissions of PPC ‘s thermal power plants

PPC has made great progress in the last two years in terms of reducing CO2 emissions from its thermal plants. Ιn 2022 it succeeded in reducing emissions to 14.94 million tons, 35% less than the corresponding levels of 2019 (23.09 million tons), while in 2023 the reduction compared to the same base year exceeded 50% (-50.3%), as all of PPC’s thermal plants are estimated to have emitted 11.47 million tons**.

Despite the fact that it slightly missed the targets reflected in the three bond loans introduced in 2021 to reduce the emissions of its thermal units by 40% in 2022 and 57% in 2023 compared to 2019 levels, PPC seems to remain committed to drastically reducing its carbon footprint. Specifically, in its new strategic business plan for the 2024 – 2026 period, presented in January 2024 at the Capital Markets Day in London, it committed to reducing emissions from its thermal plants to 5.9 million tons in 2026, a reduction of 75% compared to 2019 levels.

Assuming that the reduction in emissions from 11.47 million tons in 2023 to 5.9 million tons in 2026 is linear, an estimate of PPC’s annual carbon budgets for each year of the three-year period 2024-2026 can be made. The available budget for 2024 is estimated at 9.61 million tons.

In the first five months of the year, PPC’s thermal plants emitted 3.73 million tons, a 18% decrease compared to the same period in 2023. This reduction is more than double the corresponding percentage reduction recorded in the emissions of all thermal plants in the country (-5.9%). Therefore, PPC’s remaining carbon budget for the remaining 7 months of 2024 is 5.88 million tonnes, i.e. 61.2% of the total carbon budget for the year. Based on its climate performance in the first five months of 2024, PPC is on track to meet the target.

You can see the evolution of the electricity sector emissions since 2013, as well as read the analyses from previous months here.

* Carbon intensity is defined as the ratio of emissions from the three fuels (lignite, gas and oil, including CHP) to the country’s total electricity production from the interconnected grid and the non-interconnected islands.

** This value includes the emissions of all PPC thermal units recorded in the ETS in 2023 (9.73 million tons) and an estimate of the emissions of Ptolemaida 5 (1,735 million tons) that will be officially recorded in the ETS in the following years.