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A New Way to Measure Emissions from China’s Coal-Fired Power Plants

By Stephen Russell - August 14, 2013 

This article was originally posted on

To prevent the most severe impacts of climate change, it is essential to limit fossil fuel use—particularly coal use in power production. The share of coal in global energy consumption is increasing, with most growth occurring in China, the largest coal consumer in the world. In China, coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 45 percent of total fuel-combustion CO2 emissions. Because emissions management begins with measurement, accurately accounting for CO2 emissions from Chinese coal-fired power plants is a critical first step.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) recently released the first-ever tool and guidance for measuring CO2 emissions from Chinese coal-fired power plants. The tool will enable companies to measure major sources of individual GHG emissions, design and implement reduction strategies for coal-fired power plants, and inform government policies (e.g., cap and trade systems) to monitor and reduce emissions from power generation.

Supported by Alcoa Foundation, GIZ, the U.S. Agency for International Development and GE Foundation, the World Resources Institute (WRI) worked with the Chinese Electricity Council (CEC) to develop methodologies in the tool through a collaborative, multi-stakeholder process, as well as through road-testing by multiple power plants. These methodologies underpin an upcoming Chinese industrial standard for determining the CO2 emissions from coal stationary combustion and desulfurization processes. The tool builds on an earlier Beta version that was released last year.

Key Aspects of the Tool

The new GHG Protocol tool for measuring emissions from coal-fired power plants is available in Chinese and English. Intended for plant-level GHG accounting, the tool has the following features:

  • Accounting methods for coal-fired power plants, including combined heat and power (CHP) plants.
  • Accommodates a broad range of data availability scenarios. Plants can choose among five different methodologies based on their own circumstances; for instance, whether coal quality data are available for the plant as a whole or for individual electricity generating units (EGUs); and whether the measurements of carbon content of post-combustion ash are available or not.
  • A novel statistical approach that allows users to reliably infer coal carbon content when direct measurements of carbon content are unavailable, which is very common in Chinese plants.
  • Ability to calculate emissions at the level of either the entire plant or individual EGUS.
  • Ability to generate performance metrics and comparisons of performance with international (US) plants.

The guidance document outlines the tool’s features, structure, calculation formulas, spreadsheet functions, and data requirements. This is primarily written in Chinese, but contains an executive summary in English.

Both the tool and guidance documents are freely available to download via the GHG Protocol and WRI China website.

What Comes Next?

Calculating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered electricity production can be challenging. This tool offers industry and government officials in China a new way to track and manage these emissions. Based on this tool, WRI has been working with some Chinese provinces and power companies on their initiatives to manage emissions from power generation. WRI is also exploring opportunities to facilitate GHG-reduction strategies and actions involving the coal power sector in other developing countries, such as voluntary or mandatory reporting programs and cap-and-trade schemes.

For more information, please contact Joseph Winslow at or Jingjing Zhu at

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