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U.S. Power Sector CO2 Emissions the Lowest in 25 Years

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Mild weather and shifts in the U.S. generation mix are driving down carbon emissions.

That's according to the latest Monthly Energy Review produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The report finds that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions totaled 2,530 million metric tons January through June of 2016, which is the lowest level of emissions for the first six months of a year since 1991. 

The chart below overviews total carbon emissions by fuel source since 1990. 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

What is causing the decrease in U.S. power sector emissions? The EIA highlights three main factors: 

Mild Weather

Warmer winter weather reduces demand for heating fuels such as natural gas, heating oil and electricity. In the first six months of 2016, the U.S. experienced the fewest heating degree days (one indicator of heating demand) since at least 1949, the earliest year for which the EIA has complete monthly data. Overall, total primary energy consumption was 2 percent lower than the same time frame last year. 

Shifting Generation Mix 

Coal and natural gas consumption each decreased compared to the first six months of 2015. The decrease was far greater for coal, which generates significantly more carbon emissions than natural gas. Coal consumption fell 18 percent and natural gas one percent. 

Increasing Renewables 

During the first six months of 2016, consumption of renewable fuel sources (which do not produce carbon dioxide) increased 9 percent compared to the same period in 2015. Solar power made up 13 percent of the increase and is projected to have the largest capacity additions of any fuel in 2016. GTM Research estimates that 14.5 GW of solar will come online this year, a 94 percent increase over 2015. 

Going forward, the EIA projects that energy-related carbon emissions will fall to 5,179 million metric tons in 2016, the lowest overall level since 1992.

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Posted: October 24, 2016