Competing Air Quality and Water Conservation Co-Benefits from Power Sector Decarbonization in China


Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 3:30pm to 4:45pm


Pierce Hall 100F, 29 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA

Speaker: Peng Wei

PENG Wei, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School.

Co-sponsored by the China Project, Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Environment and Natural Resources Program, Harvard Kennedy School. 

Abstract: Decarbonizing the power sector can reduce fossil-based generation and associated air pollution and water use.  Electricity transmission can further increase the environmental benefits from power sector decarbonization: transmitting low-carbon electricity to highly populated regions increases health-related air quality benefits, while transmitting it to water-stressed regions brings larger water conservation benefits.  However, when air pollution and water stress occur in different regions, the optimal design of the transmission system to maximize air pollution control is different than the optimal design to curb water stress.  Transmission system designs thus create an infrastructure with built-in tradeoffs between air quality and water conservation benefits from a decarbonized power system.  Here we examine such tradeoffs in China.  For six power sector decarbonization scenarios in 2030 that are in line with China’s climate pledges, we develop an optimization model to study transmission system designs with the aim of achieving air quality or water conservation goals.  In all six scenarios, we find that increasing the priority on air quality benefits (modeled as an increased unit economic cost for air pollutant emissions) reduces national total air pollution impacts at the expense of lower water conservation; and vice versa.  Such results can largely be explained by the differences between air-pollution and water-oriented transmission system designs, due to different locations of air pollution and water stress in China (severe in the east and north, respectively).  To achieve both co-benefits simultaneously, it is therefore critical to coordinate air pollution and water policies (pollution tax and water pricing) with transmission planning.