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U.S. Power Sector Carbon Emissions Fall to Lowest Levels in 20 Years

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Much has been written recently about how the Clean Power Plan will impact electricity prices and emissions. 

A less-covered story, however, is that carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector — the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States — have fallen significantly over the past five years. 

Last week, the Sierra Club released a new analysis examining U.S. carbon emissions and the impact of coal plant retirements. The report – "Accelerating the U.S. Coal Phase Out: Leading By Example in Paris and Beyond" – estimates that annual carbon emissions produced by the U.S. power sector will total 1,983 million metric tons (MMT) by the end of 2015, which is the lowest level in the past 20 years, since 1995. 

The chart below from the Sierra Club compares electric power and economy-wide emissions over the past five years. While carbon emissions from the power sector have dropped dramatically since 2010, economy-wide emissions have slightly increased since 2012.  

What explains the decrease in carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector? As the report notes, unprecedented coal retirements have played a major role, with 2015 retirements totaling the same amount of capacity retired over a 20-year span from 1990-2009. 

Equally important, however, is how coal generation is being replaced. Natural gas has and will continue to play a pivotal role in the nation's transition to cleaner energy. Innovative solar projects increasingly offer major environmental and business benefits. And, cutting-edge technology that offers personalized, real-time insights – like Wireless Electricity Monitoring by Panoramic Power – will continue to spur more intelligent and efficient energy usage. 

You can read the Sierra Club's full report here. Also, be sure to check out this recent article on ERCOT's impact analysis of the Clean Power Plan.

Posted: November 11, 2015

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