The relative contribution of waste heat from power plants to global warming

R. Zevenhoven*, A. Beyene

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    62 Citations (Scopus)


    Evidence on global climate change, being caused primarily by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is perceived as fairly conclusive. It is generally attributed to the enhanced greenhouse effect, resulting from higher levels of trapped heat radiation by increasing atmospheric concentrations of gases such as CO2 (carbon dioxide). Much of these gases originate from power plants and fossil fuel combustion. However, the fate of vast amounts of waste heat rejected into the environment has evaded serious scholarly research. While 1 kWh electricity generation in a typical condensing coal-fired power plant emits around 1 kg of CO2, it also puts about 2 kWh energy into the environment as low grade heat. For nuclear (fission) electricity the waste heat release per kWh is somewhat higher despite much lower CO2 releases. This paper evaluates the impact of waste heat rejection combined with CO2 emissions using Finland and California as case examples. The immediate effects of waste heat release from power production and radiative forcing by CO2 are shown to be similar. However, the long-term (hundred years) global warming by CO2-caused radiative forcing is about twenty-five times stronger than the immediate effects, being responsible for around 92% of the heat-up caused by electricity production.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3754-3762
    Number of pages9
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Global warming
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Thermal power plant
    • Waste heat


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