US Emissions Down Even Before Obama’s Pledge

on December 11, 2014 at 11:00 AM

New EPA Regulation To Cut Emissions From Coal-Fired Plants In US

Even more can be done without too much pain 

US energy-related CO2 emissions have declined in 5 of the past 8 years, almost without trying very hard, mostly due to reductions in the electric power sector. Current trends, including lower energy demand growth rates (graph below), continued substitution of gas for coal and increasing the share of renewables can reduce it even further, also without too much pain. President Obama’s recent joint announcement with China to cut US emissions 26-28% below 2005 level by 2025, while welcomed and highly significant, are not seen as sufficiently ambitious in some circles.

Not much growth in US electricity demand

Climate 1

Source: Seeing is believing, World Resources Institute, Oct 2014

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), US electricity demand growth continues to fall while the power sector becomes less carbon intensive, measured in units of CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour of generation. Consequently, emissions from the US electric power sector in 2013 totaled 2,053 million metric tons (MMmt), roughly 15% below their 2005 level.

The US power sector, like its counterparts in other developed economies, has become less carbon intensive for two reasons: less-carbon-intensive natural gas-fired generation displacing coal and the rapid growth of renewables primarily driven by mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS), now in effect in 29 states.

The US, of course, has been blessed with ample supplies of inexpensive natural gas from the shale gas, making the substitution of coal to gas an attractive option. This is not necessarily the case in Europe or Japan where natural gas is scarce and expensive.

US emissions down, without even trying very hard

Climate 2

Source: US Energy Information Administration, Annual CO2 Analysis

The growth of US renewables has been driven largely by state policies and federal tax incentives. In 2005, US wind and solar generation totaled 18 billion kWh, or about 2% of non-carbon generation; by 2013 the same sources generated 176 billion kWh, or 14% of non-carbon US generation, a massive increase.

In 2005, hydroelectric and nuclear power totaled 1,049 billion kWh, representing 95% of non-carbon US generation; the corresponding figure for 2013 was 1,055 million kWh or 83% of non-carbon generation.

Published Originally in EEnergy Informer: The International Energy Newsletter December 2014 Issue.