Researchers develop model to map global power plant emissions


Researchers have developed a global computer model that simulates the hourly energy and emissions output of the world’s power plants.

It demonstrates how 30,000 power plants in 164 countries operate across a year and utilizes the latest trends in big data, cloud computing and software development.

Called PLEXOS World, the model is the brainchild of researchers at MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine at University College Cork in Ireland. 

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It was developed by Maarten Brinkerink and Paul Deane, who say that it is unprecedented in detail, scope and accessibility.

“We are so proud of this development – we have pushed the limits of what was once thought unimaginable,” said Deane, who is Research Fellow at MaREI.

The model is developed in the PLEXOS software platform, which is a powerful but transparent energy modelling platform used by energy companies throughout the world and which is free to academics for research.

“This is an incredible tool for research and we are delighted to make it available to the global research community to tackle some of the world’s toughest energy and climate problems,” added Brinkerink, researcher at MaREI.

The model gathers more than 100 million data points from publicly-available databases around the world. When that data is crunched, it produces more than four billion data points of output which can be visualised at a global or regional level across different timescales.

“PLEXOS is all about simulating and optimising complex, inter-connected systems, and there is no more salient constraint today than the fact we must share this tiny, fragile world with seven billion others,” said Glenn Drayton, Founder of Energy Exemplar, the company behind PLEXOS software.

“My hope is that PLEXOS World will put solid numbers behind the global conversation on balancing future energy needs with conservation of resources and the environment.”

The model also takes advantage of the incredible advances in computational solvers seen over the past two years, and users can choose to run the entire model on a workstation or on a cloud-based computer for faster results.

The tool is tailored for researchers and professionals in the energy sector and requires some knowledge of power systems and electricity markets. It allows users to understand and visualise how electricity is generated in each region across the planet as well as ask questions about future electricity generation where users can change inputs, power plant types, electricity demand and costs.

PLEXOS World draws on significant public data sets from the World Resource Institute for power plant types, location and sizes. It uses hourly wind and solar data from Renewable Ninja for wind and solar locations and regional fossil fuel prices from BP statistical review. Hourly demand profiles and cross-border transmission capacities are retrieved through a variety of sources.

The model will continually be developed and enhanced over the next few years as more data and information become available.

This story first appeared on our sister-site, Power Engineering International.