CARMA Notes: Future Data
One of CARMA’s rather unique features is the inclusion of data about the future. The v3.0 data contains entries for year 2004, year 2009, and the “Future”. All three points in time are displayed on any of the detail pages at CARMA.org (for example: http://carma.org/plant/detail/44204). Many CARMA users are interested in information about future developments in their area. Where are plants being constructed or planned? Where are existing plants being expanded? Which companies are likely to see their emissions rise the most? A proprietary, commercial database underpinning CARMA provides information that can help answer these questions.
First, a word of caution: The underlying database that provides information about future developments is only as good as the state of public information around the world; it reports what companies and plant builders have actually divulged. In some cases, the reported plans may be concrete and comprehensive. In other cases, they may be tentative and incomplete. There is no way of knowing which is which. In short, the “Future” figures in CARMA must be interpreted with caution. I want to briefly show some examples of how to (and how not to) use this information.
Let’s consider individual plants. The simplest “Future” case is the construction of a new power plant. Such plants are included in CARMA with the signifier “(Planned)” appended to the plant name: http://carma.org/plant/detail/74556. We can see that this plant was not in operation in 2004 or 2009, but data are included for the “Future” period. “Future” refers to any point in time after 2009. So, a planned facility might have entered commercial operation last year – or it may not go into commercial operation for a decade or more. Information about start dates is sometimes included in CARMA’s input data, but (unfortunately) cannot be released to the public due to proprietary data restrictions.
In the case of a planned plant, the “Future” data are simply a model estimate of plant performance once commercial operation begins, based on engineering specifications. The best way to search for planned plants via the website is to use the Dig Deeper tool and sort a given locale’s power plants using the “Future” radio button on the right side.
In some cases, future plans include capacity expansions at an existing facility. The Taichung plant in Taiwan is a case in point. We can see that electricity generation and CO2 emissions jump up in the “Future” period compared to 2009. If a plant shows no change in data between 2009 and the Future, that is indicative of no planned capacity expansions (or retirements). If the two sets of data are different, then some planned change(s) is expected, though the date(s) of the change is uncertain. The “Future” data are, again, a model estimate of how the plant might operate after the alterations are completed.
“Future” data are also available for geographic regions and countries, though they should be treated carefully. In both cases, the figures simply report aggregated “Future” electricity production and emissions from all associated power plants. We do not know if the “Future” totals reflect plants planned for operation in the next 5 years or 20 years. Nor do we know if the reported future plans are exhaustive or a small sample of what will actually occur. Looking at the totals for Uttar Pradesh state in India, for example, we see that “Future” CO2 emissions are significantly higher than 2009 emissions. But whether this increase occurs by 2015 or 2025 – and whether actual emissions go even higher – is impossible to tell from CARMA’s data alone.
Overall, CARMA’s “Future” data is most helpful in revealing planned power plants that were not in operation as of 2009 (“new builds”) and a reasonable estimate of their likely electricity production and CO2 emissions. The “Future” data can also be used to identify the likely effects of capacity expansion (or retirement) at existing facilities by comparing the 2009 and “Future” data. The “Future” data are far less helpful when looking at region and company totals. In those cases, uncertainty about the timing and comprehensiveness of future plans make the totals difficult to reliably interpret. Users should be aware of these limitations and recognize that “Future” data reported by CARMA are by no means exhaustive projections or predictions.