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EIA: US energy-related CO2 emissions in 2012 lowest since 1994; reflects drop in coal use

US energy-related CO2 emissions in 2012 were the lowest since 1994, at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). With the exception of 2010, emissions have declined every year since 2007.

The largest drop in emissions in 2012 came from coal, which is used almost exclusively for electricity generation. During 2012, particularly in the spring and early summer, low natural gas prices led to competition between natural gas- and coal-fired electric power generators. Lower natural gas prices resulted in reduced levels of coal generation, and increased natural gas generation—a less carbon-intensive fuel for power generation, which shifted power generation from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel (coal) to the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel (natural gas).

Other factors contributing to the lower emissions include decreased demand for transportation fuels and mild winter temperatures that reduced demand for heating. The warm winter months during 2012 (particularly in the first quarter) more than offset a slight increase in cooling degree days during the summer months.

EIA will publish a full analysis of 2012 energy-related CO2 emissions later this year.

Duke study. Separately, a new study by Duke University researchers published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology concludes that the cost of complying with tougher EPA air-quality standards could spur an increased shift away from coal and toward natural gas for electricity generation.

The stricter regulations on sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and mercury may make nearly two-thirds of the nation’s coal-fired power plants as expensive to run as plants powered by natural gas, the study finds.

Because of the cost of upgrading plants to meet the EPA's pending emissions regulations and its stricter enforcement of current regulations, natural gas plants would become cost-competitive with a majority of coal plants—even if natural gas becomes more than four times as expensive as coal. This is a much higher fraction of economic vulnerability than has previously been reported

—Prof. Lincoln F. Pratson

To conduct the study, Pratson and his team assessed the cost of electricity generation at plants producing 95% of the nation’s coal-fired electricity and 70% of its natural gas-powered electricity. The researchers estimated costs for both types of plants over a wide range of fuel prices and under both existing and pending emissions standards.

Under current standards and at current fuel prices, 9% of US coal-fired plants are more costly to run than a median-cost natural gas plant, they found. Even a modest jump in gas prices could erase this advantage.

However, with tougher emissions standards the EPA would enact and enforce, another 56% of US coal plants would become as costly to run as natural gas plants. The regulations would make 65% of coal plants nationwide as expensive as natural gas, even if gas prices rise significantly.

The net effect of the shift to natural gas on global carbon dioxide emissions remains uncertain, Pratson said, since coal that is not consumed in the United States is already finding its way to other countries in Europe and Asia.

Resources

  • Lincoln F. Pratson, Drew Haerer, and Dalia Patiño-Echeverri (2013) Fuel Prices, Emission Standards, and Generation Costs for Coal vs Natural Gas Power Plants. Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/es4001642

Comments

HarveyD

Good news for USA and the world. If a Moneycracy can reduce emissions, so should be able the rest of the world?

The arrival of over one to three million electrified (HEV-PHEV-BEV) vehicles/year and 80+ million more efficient ICEVs/year will soon start to have a positive effect.

More efficient trucks, buses and airplanes will also start to contribute.

More efficient homes, offices, public buildings, factories, lights, heat pumps, A/C etc could also contribute to reduce energy consumption, specially coal produced electricity.

Nick Lyons

Sadly, as the 'third world' develops, CO2 from increased coal use by developing countries will swamp reductions from more developed countries. This is a global problem and needs global solutions. Expensive renewables aren't going to cut it--we need cheap nuclear power, namely factory built SMRs (Small MOdular Reactors) and eventually SMR-type MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors). Expensive power is not the answer. Cheap, clean power is the way to global prosperity.

Engineer-Poet

Cheap, clean power indeed... a pity that the USA has a regulatory regime aimed at preventing that replacement, and much of the rest of the First World is as bad or worse.

ToppaTom

The production of electrified vehicles may eventually start to have a positive effect.

Meanwhile, in spite of an administration that tries to stop GOM oil production and Canadian/American pipelines and force us back to coal, private industry, driven by profit not greed (greed is wastrels wanting to take the achiever’s money) has dramatically reduced amount of CO2 being released in the U.S. to its lowest level in 20 years.

The biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

And it happened as a result of market forces, oil sands, fracking and deep water drilling, rather than graft ridden government action against carbon dioxide.

SJC

TT

I think this administration wants to prevent another blow out like BP in the Gulf of Mexico. I think they want to prevent another tar sands pipe rupture like the one this week in Arkansas.

You can put whatever spin you want on the facts, but there is more oil being produced now in the U.S. than in the past. The oil companies have 50 million acres under lease they are not developing, those are the facts.

HarveyD

Burning more and more fossil fuels, bio-fuels and biomass are the main culprits leading to climate changes. One of the secondary effect, i.e. the massive release of methane in the atmosphere will follow.

Up to 80% of the energy we use is wasted. The world can find ways to effectively reduce the use of energy by 50+% thereby reducing the burning of fossil fuels, bio-fuels and biomass and associated emissions.

New Democracies are not very compatible with energy conservation or more effective use of it.

Some of the affordable ways are very well known but we are still very reluctant to apply them:

1. upgrade the building codes with LEEDS type goals.
2. change all lights with 200+ lm/watt long lasting LED
3. change all (10 to 13) A/C units with 30+ heat pumps.
4. electrify, electrify and electrify.

HarveyD

correction.....New Democracies should read....New Moneycracies...

ai_vin

"The net effect of the shift to natural gas on global carbon dioxide emissions remains uncertain, Pratson said, since coal that is not consumed in the United States is already finding its way to other countries in Europe and Asia. "

HarveyD

An in depth study done by our Hydro supplier concluded that an energy waste reduction program cost 3 times LESS than new added production facilities. The $300,000,000 invested in the energy saving program in the last 3 years saved more than $1B in new facilities.

Most homes, public/private buildings and industries can reduce waste and energy consumed by 40% to 50%.
That's equivalent to the 42% of all electricity produced by coal fired plants in USA.

Of course, private power industries do not want to pay for such energy saving programs because they would sell less energy and make less profits.

That is one of the problem with Moneycracies. The 97% has to consume more and more to maintain the profit margins at high level and further enrich the 3%.

HarveyD

NG/SG power plants are normally 20% to 25% cleaner than coal fired power plants of the same generation.

However, a large 1000 mega-watt NG power plants produces about the same CO2 as 600,000 recent ICEVs.

Blue (NG) power is not as clean as promoters claim?

wintermane2000

Harvey the problem there is we don't have the money. A lot of what we were able to afford we already did everything else we simply cant do right now we don't have the money.

So a lot of supposed waste we could cut is waste we cant.

HarveyD

W-2000...WE HAVE THE MONEY to reduce wasted energy. The money is there but in the wrong pockets or the 'tax heavens'.

Facts and possibilities:

1. The cost to reduce energy waste is 1/3 of the cost to build equivalent new e-energy production facilities.

2. It is obvious that private energy producers are not interested in the promotion of, or sharing the cost of energy saving programs.

3. The only way to get it done in USA, and where energy production is privatized, is to force private producers to share (50+%) the energy saving programs cost with 5% to 10% of their profits.

4. The building code can be progressively but faster upgraded to reduce energy required for heating/cooling by 40+%.

5. Current 13 SEER A/C units could be banned in favor of 26+ SEER heat pumps.

6. Older 8 to 10 SEER A/C units should be replaced in priority with 50+% grants.

7. the replacement of all lights with 200+ lm/watt LED units should be part of the programs with a $10/light subsidy.

8. CAFE standards should be upgraded from about 3%/year to 6+%/year.

9. etc etc

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