Articles | Volume 4, issue 12
Research article
21 Dec 2011
Research article |  | 21 Dec 2011

Towards space based verification of CO2 emissions from strong localized sources: fossil fuel power plant emissions as seen by a CarbonSat constellation

V. A. Velazco, M. Buchwitz, H. Bovensmann, M. Reuter, O. Schneising, J. Heymann, T. Krings, K. Gerilowski, and J. P. Burrows

Abstract. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) that cause global warming. With electricity generation through fossil-fuel power plants now being the economic sector with the largest source of CO2, power plant emissions monitoring has become more important than ever in the fight against global warming. In a previous study done by Bovensmann et al. (2010), random and systematic errors of power plant CO2 emissions have been quantified using a single overpass from a proposed CarbonSat instrument. In this study, we quantify errors of power plant annual emission estimates from a hypothetical CarbonSat and constellations of several CarbonSats while taking into account that power plant CO2 emissions are time-dependent. Our focus is on estimating systematic errors arising from the sparse temporal sampling as well as random errors that are primarily dependent on wind speeds. We used hourly emissions data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined with assimilated and re-analyzed meteorological fields from the National Centers of Environmental Prediction (NCEP). CarbonSat orbits were simulated as a sun-synchronous low-earth orbiting satellite (LEO) with an 828-km orbit height, local time ascending node (LTAN) of 13:30 (01:30 p.m. LT) and achieves global coverage after 5 days. We show, that despite the variability of the power plant emissions and the limited satellite overpasses, one CarbonSat has the potential to verify reported US annual CO2 emissions from large power plants (≥5 Mt CO2 yr−1) with a systematic error of less than ~4.9% and a random error of less than ~6.7% for 50% of all the power plants. For 90% of all the power plants, the systematic error was less than ~12.4% and the random error was less than ~13%. We additionally investigated two different satellite configurations using a combination of 5 CarbonSats. One achieves global coverage everyday but only samples the targets at fixed local times. The other configuration samples the targets five times at two-hour intervals approximately every 6th day but only achieves global coverage after 5 days. From the statistical analyses, we found, as expected, that the random errors improve by approximately a factor of two if 5 satellites are used. On the other hand, more satellites do not result in a large reduction of the systematic error. The systematic error is somewhat smaller for the CarbonSat constellation configuration achieving global coverage everyday. Therefore, we recommend the CarbonSat constellation configuration that achieves daily global coverage.