Under the Kyoto agreement, the EU needs to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 8% from their 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity is one of the major sources of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, so any increase in the efficiency of electric generators, transformers and motors will lead to a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. Superconducting devices are more efficient than existing devices because their reduced resistance to electric current means that they waste less energy as heat.

Now Risto Mikkonen and colleagues from Tampere University of Technology have analyzed data from the Finnish power grid and calculated the potential reduction that would result from using high-temperature superconductors (T Hartikainen et al. 2003 Supercond. Sci. Technol. 16 963).

The team found that Finland could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by between 0.8 and 1.53 million tonnes per year if it replaced all its existing power plant generators, transformers and synchronous motors with high-temperature superconductor (HTS) devices. When applied to the entire EU, this corresponds to a reduction of between 27 and 53 million tonnes, which is 33-65% of the reduction stipulated in the Kyoto treaty.

However, market penetration models suggest that it could take 20 years to achieve half of this potential reduction. At present, Mikkonen and colleagues argue that it is more important to improve the efficiency of HTS devices than it is to manufacture more devices.