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Technical brief: transportation overtaking electricity generation as the largest source of US CO2 emissions

A technical brief by Dr. John DeCicco at the University of Michigan Energy Institute shows that transportation is overtaking electricity generation as the largest source of US CO2.

The average rate at which CO2 is emitted from vehicle tailpipes and other mobile sources has exceeded the rate of CO2 emissions from electric power plants over seven of the past eight months. Although efficiency gains are limiting transportation emissions growth, the gains are not enough to reduce the sector’s CO2 emissions in the face of increased travel and shipping, DeCicco writes. CO2 emissions from the transportation sector increased at an average rate of 1.8% per year over the past four years.

12-month running averages for transportation and electricity generation since late 2014. These curves smooth over the seasonal variations in the monthly data. Data derived from US EIA. Source: John DeCicco. Click to enlarge.

Further, electric sector CO2 emissions have dropped greatly in recent years, declining at an average rate of 2.8% per year over 2007-2015 due to the displacement of coal by natural gas, wind and solar for power production as well as energy efficiency gains.

On top of that, the Clean Power Plan will accelerate CO2 reductions in the electric sector, widening the gap by which transportation exceeds electricity in the years ahead unless additional steps are taken to reduce or offset the CO2 emitted by cars, trucks, aircraft and other mobile sources, DeCicco notes.

Projected CO2 emissions from transportation and electricity generation with and without the Clean Power Plan. Source: John DeCicco. Click to enlarge.

Stronger CAFE and GHG emissions standards for cars and trucks will help, but are not enough to put transportation sector CO2 emissions on a clearly declining trend. Additional measures, including ways to offset the CO2 emitted by liquid fuel use, will be needed to address the transportation-climate challenge.

—John DeCicco



A federal gas tax of $0.50 / us Gallon of gasoline / diesel would bend that curve a little (and bring in a load of money).


Better yet, a 50 cent increase each year for 10 years. Balance the budget, allow huge tax cuts for middle class citizens...........and actually do something about co2 emissions!


Even an extra one (1) cent/gallon tax would never get by both houses in an election year.

CAFE at 40+ or 50+ mpg may be the only way for now.


Ross Perot wanted a 5 cent per gallon gas tax per year for 10 years in the 1992 election. Here we are 24 years later with the $100 oil profits going to OPEC and Exxon with roads getting worse.


I think you need a once off tax.
It will have a better "shock" effect and can only be killed once.
If you have a 5c / year for 10 years, you have 10 chances to kill it.
Cars are more efficient than they were in Perot's day so you can't complain (so much) about hitting the poor.
However, I tend to agree with Harvey that there is snowball's change of this getting passed.
For the record, we have tax of about $3.36 / US gallon on gasoline in Ireland (typical for Europe) [and it hasn't killed anyone] (Farmers get a reduced rate).

Dr. Strange Love

What about CO2 from Residential/Commercial NG fire Heating.

The author has a lot of missing inputs to the report. Go back to work.

All heating should be done using Gas fired Elec/Heat Cogeneration with Mandatory Geothermal HP systems. End-of-Story.

Café should fix Light Vehicle CO2 emissions over time.


If nuclear power had the same incentives as the unreliable wind and PV, we'd be seeing a massive decarbonization of the electric sector.  The next step would be to electrify the transport sector, replacing fossil carbon with carbon-free electricity.

Sadly, the "environmental" movement is run by natural-gas interests.  This is why the CPP accounting incentivizes the replacement of existing nuclear with natural gas.


"If nuclear power had the same incentives as the unreliable wind and PV"

the only reason nuclear exist is because Admiral Rickover and the Federal government had incentivized it for 50 years. and yet we still don't have electricity that's "too cheap to meter"


Rickover wanted nuclear for ships but then the government put him in charge of making decisions about nuclear power. Light water reactors were a mistake for making power.

William Stockwell

No private insurers will insure Nuclear power plants, they can only exist if the federal government agree to pick up the risk.

the only reason nuclear exist is because Admiral Rickover and the Federal government had incentivized it for 50 years.

That's bullshit and you ought to know it.  The AEC was replaced by the hostile NRC less than 20 years after Shippingport, and just over 30 after the first controlled chain reaction.

we still don't have electricity that's "too cheap to meter"

That lie is way past its prime and needs to go on the compost heap.  Here are the actual prepared remarks of Strauss that day in 1954.  Strauss was speculating, and said so; note that Shippingport didn't go critical until 1957, and Strauss was likely thinking about nuclear fusion instead.

We could have "too cheap to meter" fission power today, if consumers were allowed to pay a straight monthly subscription fee to get a fixed number of watts 24/7/365.  However, the regulations in today's "deregulated" markets don't allow anything like this.

No private insurers will insure Nuclear power plants

Every NPP in the USA has a large amount of private insurance; I believe it's $300 million.  Then there is Price-Anderson, which puts EVERY NPP on the hook for damages at ANY plant which exceed the $300 million cap.  Every cent of that is private money.

You're a liar, Stockwell.


Maybe we should be spending more on R&D upon thermal energy? A light weight thermal battery would provide improvements across the board. We have a huge low grade heating and cooling energy load. It would be very valuable indeed to balance that load easier and utilize waste heat. Vehicles with no active cooling system and power plants with another co-product, for example.

Dr. Strange Love

Blasphemy. Who on this site is Bashing Rickover. He should be admired for his "over attention to detail" and his call to serve however possible in what he deemed was in the public interest. He died rich in service of this country from my POV.

The pendulum is too much in favor of "Private" in those sectors that ARE "Public-Private" interest. NPPs can be the safe solution to clean and cheap electricity if we had more Rickover's in charge today.

Dr. Strange Love

I think we should vote to rename this site "GreenCongress". The motorized passenger vehicle community is centric and biased in favor of selfish and wasteful travel. It should be unlawful to operate a motorized vehicle if the benefit to society does not out way the cost. We should find a way to meter this and fine violators.

I am tired of the preponderance of battery articles on this site. Batteries do not produce or transport clean energy. I want more discussion on "Real-at-the-Source-and-Target"clean energy solutions, and discussion on energy conservation solutions (e.g. mandatory Electric/Heat Cogeneration with GroundSource Geothermal wherever NG/Oil/etc heating is applied in Homes and Commercial space). I think the electric car consortium runs this site.


I have a problem with the people who believed Rickover could do no wrong, who thought he was right all the time.

"Rickover's legendary achievements were in the past. His present viselike grip on much of the navy was doing it much harm."

Dr. Strange Love

Rickover -- He should be admired for his "over attention to detail" and his call to serve however possible in what he deemed was in the public interest. He died rich in service of this country from my POV.

Where in this statement does it imply that "Rickover could do no wrong". He did his community service how he saw it fit to be done. I cannot judge him on his character and he is not the One that is seated at the right hand of God.


If you read his biography you see he was granted a lot of power, obviously someone in authority believed in him.
Towards the end of his career the navy wanted to get rid of him, obviously they did not share that awesome confidence,

This is not the forum to discuss this, it was mentioned in the context of nuclear light water reactors. His decisions over ruled many in the nuclear science community who actually knew what they were talking about.

Dr. Strange Love

SJC. I understand your POV. I have read his biography, and several years back PBS did a decent job of showcasing (American Experience?) Rickover for who he was. He was a narrow minded boar, and the Navy did eventually decommission his services. His career ended sadly.


Rickover and his protegé Milton Shaw did a lot of damage before they finally left.  Had they not been promoted above their level of competence, they may have had unblemished records.


The main problem with nuclear reactors and NPPS is that they have not been updated enough. The same nuclear furnace has been used for over 50 years but the price has gone up 15X to 25X.

For NPPs to become safe and economical way to produce most of the clean e-energy required would need:

1) major technical design changes/updating.
2) major cost reduction.
3) possible mass (in factory) much smaller units.
4) a good PR job to reassure the population that they are safe.
5) multi-billion dollar insurance
6) retail/delivered energy price around or below $0.10/kWh

Since the above will not happen for another 20 to 40 years, NPPs may as well be put on the back burner.


Between NuScale reactors and Lightbridge fuel, everything you've asked for is already coming.

Henry Gibson

When US nuclear power plants are considered, the ones in the Navy are mostly ignored. Since hydrocarbons are so expensive they have saved far more carbon release and money than all of the US windmills put together. There are at least three nuclear power reactors on mars and perhaps still ten in pacemakers in people's bodies which use plutonium 238 as fuel and will be at less than half power in 80 years. The latest mars rover runs entirely on the heat from plutonium 238 so that it does not have to park in the sun all of the mars winter.

Isotope 238 gives off a lot of heat but very little dangerous radiation. A hundred thousand pounds of it or more would power an old steam locomotive boiler and it would not be radioactively dangerous to be the driver since most of the radioactivity would be self contained or contained by the boiler walls just as in the pacemakers; People have 4000 potassium explosions inside them every second any way with far more dangerous beta and gamma rays.

Isotope 238 is not considered fissionable for chain reactions, but is considered one of the best sources of nuclear energy. Two hundred grams of it might keep a person warm without much danger if diluted in a titanium alloy it might be like a built in electric blanket.


SNC Lavalin bought Canada's Nuclear Energy R&D facilities and all rights to CANDUs reactors for a few XX$M a few years ago.

SNC has recently established a joint venture with two Chinese firms to design, produce and install two (2) 'advanced' CANDUs in China.

The final installed cost 'may be' considerably lower than refurbished and/or new CANDUs in Canada.


When will the first smaller 'mass or factory produced' NPPs be produced and installed?

Can it be done before 2030/2040?


If we treated the problem with the seriousness it deserves, there would be a Manhattan-project-level effort in place and the first units of something like NuScale would go critical by 2018.

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