Tracking Coal Plants to Fight Global Warming

Main Map on Coal Tracker
The Coal Tracker map embedded in the EndCoal website.
Client:   CoalSwarm

Coal plants are a huge contributor to global warming and thousands more are being planned globally. CoalSwarm, a consortium of groups working in different countries to limit new coal plants, asked GreenInfo to build an improved power plant tracking system using web mapping technology, to support scores of campaign leaders. Launched in 2014, the project continues to have an impact, including a mention in a New York Times article in July 2017.

About one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal, and coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of man-made CO2 emissions. Working together with CoalSwarm, GreenInfo developed a global Coal Tracker mapping application to contribute to efforts to monitor and stop the construction of new coal plants worldwide.

The plant tracker provides information on coal plants proposed since 2010. Currently, 570 units are under construction, and nearly 1,700 units are in planning worldwide. The database tracks over 3,800 units in total.

The coal tracker map shows all units in a selected country, region or subnational unit (for China and India). Units are colored according to their status (Pre-permit development, permitted, construction, shelved, cancelled, or operating), and are clustered to show where there are multiple overlapping units at a location or a plant (a single plant can have many units, each unit consists of a boiler). For each unit, the tracker provides location, status, sponsor, size, and carbon dioxide emissions; each is linked to a wiki page containing further details and references. Users of the application can zoom to a high resolution satellite map of each coal plant for additional context.

A tracker table provides information on each unit in the database for the selected area. Summary tables provide information on country and regional totals by megawatts, units, and annual and lifetime CO2 contributions.  Both the map and the tracker table can be searched to find specific locations, or to filter by name or status category, for example. The map can also be explored by clicking on a country of interest. Provided that country has coal plants in operation or planning since 2010, the map will move to that location.

The application is responsive and works well on mobile devices because it is built using the Bootstrap framework. To cluster units, we use a Leaflet plugin called "PruneCluster". This plugin is designed to work on large datasets and mobile devices. PruneCluster is also able to style clusters according to marker categories; in our case, the circle colors are proportional to the "status" of the underlying coal plant units. As units are turned on or off in the legend by status, the clusters are automatically and dynamically recalculated, and the styles are updated on the map.

In early 2015 Coal Swarm and the Sierra Club published an assessment of coal plant building, and concluded:  "The global boom in coal-fired power plant construction is going bust."  For every one coal plant recently built, construction has been cancelled on two other plants. 

GreenInfo has also developed individual country modules for Coal Tracker, like this one for Germany

Results: This application has contributed to a decline in the number of coal plants being built worldwide, helping reduce carbon emissions. It has also been covered in major media outlets, including The New York Times in summer 2017.

Focus:   Environment, Social Justice/Equity  

Services:  Interactive Solutions, Applications Development, Web Mapping 

Tags:   Coal, climate change, energy, global  

“ This project got done on time, with results better than we hoped for - and GreenInfo made the deadline-driven development process actually fun and stress-free”

—  Ted Nace, Author and Founder of CoalSwarm

“ That is fantastic! Thank you very much for getting this organized so quickly. ”

—  Elena Bixel , Policy Officer Coal in Europe , Climate Alliance Germany

Project Years: 2014-2015

GreenInfo Network creates, analyzes, visualizes and communicates information in the public interest. We specialize in mapping and related technology for nonprofits and public agencies, focusing on using it for conservation, social equity, public health, environment and foundation grant making.
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