Carbon intensity of power sector down in 2019

Carbon intensity (lb CO2/MWh) for US power sector, 2001-2019. Credit Power Sector Carbon Index, Scott Institute for Energy Innovation

Carbon intensity (lb CO2/MWh) for US power sector, 2001-2019. Credit Power Sector Carbon Index, Scott Institute for Energy Innovation

Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation have compiled carbon emissions for the U.S. electric power sector for the second quarter (Q2) of 2019 as part of the CMU Power Sector Carbon Index. The index tracks carbon emissions and electricity generation over time and by energy source. Compared to Q2 of 2018, total U.S. power generation fell by 4% in Q2 of 2019, and the carbon intensity of the sector, measured in pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour, dropped by 9%.

“The U.S. electricity sector is continuing to get cleaner, and both carbon intensity and overall emissions are dropping,” said Costa Samaras assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Power Sector Carbon Index co-director.

Coal generation in 2019 Q2 is down 19% compared to just a year ago. After being the dominant source of power production in the U.S. for most of the electric age, coal has been on a steady decline for the past decade. In 2016, natural gas replaced coal as the largest source of electricity, a trend which has continued since. Burning natural gas produces only about half of the direct CO2 emissions that coal does, per unit of energy generated. In 2019 Q2, power generation from coal provided 21% of the nation’s electricity, while natural gas provided 36%.

“We’re in the middle of an energy transition right now, and the biggest part of that story in the U.S. is how swiftly coal has been declining over the past decade,” said Samaras. “The decline of coal can be attributed to the rise of natural gas, the continued improvement of renewables, and energy efficiency efforts.”

Renewables saw considerable growth over the past year. Compared to 2018 Q2, generation from solar increased 10% and generation from wind increased by 7%. “Wind and solar power are getting more and more competitive in electricity markets,” said Samaras, pointing to the falling production costs as a significant driver of renewable energy. The large majority of renewable generation currently comes from utility-scale projects, as opposed to distributed generation like residential roof-top solar or small wind turbines. Together, wind and solar accounted for 11% of U.S. power generation in 2019 Q2. Hydropower generation provided 8%.

Despite notable recent nuclear plant closures such as Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, nuclear power remained the largest zero-carbon source of electricity in the U.S., accounting for 20% of total generation.

The Power Sector Carbon Index, supported by Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, was created to give policy makers, academics, industries, think-tanks, and the public up-to-date information on trends in the carbon intensity of the U.S. power sector. Though it relies on publicly available data, the Power Sector Index compiles information from disparate datasets and standardizes the calculation of carbon intensity, providing a much-needed service for anyone wanting to track the performance of the sector.

Compared to 2005, a year commonly used to benchmark progress in reducing emissions, the carbon intensity of the U.S. power sector is down more than 38% in 2019 Q2. Much of this progress comes simply from displacing coal with natural gas, though high-efficiency natural gas plants do account for a small portion of this reduction. Renewable sources, which Samaras expects will continue to add capacity to the power sector, account for most of the rest of this reduction in carbon intensity.

In 2017, for the first time in decades, transportation supplanted power generation as the economic sector with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Tracking carbon in the power sector, according to Samaras, remains the fundamental barometer of progress in decarbonization due to the promise of electrification reducing emissions from other sectors, like transportation (with electric vehicles), buildings (with electric space heating), and some industrial activities. The Power Sector Carbon Index will continue to track these trends in a useful, easy to understand, and reliable way for anyone interested in U.S. carbon emissions.

###

From EurekAlert!

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “Carbon intensity of power sector down in 2019

  1. “Renewables saw considerable growth over the past year. Compared to 2018 Q2, generation from solar increased 10% and generation from wind increased by 7%. “Wind and solar power are getting more and more competitive in electricity markets,” said Samaras, pointing to the falling production costs as a significant driver of renewable energy. The large majority of renewable generation currently comes from utility-scale projects, as opposed to distributed generation like residential roof-top solar or small wind turbines. Together, wind and solar accounted for 11% of U.S. power generation in 2019 Q2. Hydropower generation provided 8%.”

    So wind and solar has increased from about 10% of the US power generation to 11% from Q2 2018 to Q2 2019. I’m not sure I would call that considerable growth, and it’s not exactly threatening power generated by the use of fossil fuels.

    • Exactly what I was thinking. If Solar provides 2% of the power mix then a 10% increase takes Solar to 2.2%
      A 10% increase would be impressive if Solar’s share of the mix were more impressive

  2. The main reason the carbon intensity of the power sector is down is because coal is being replaced by natural gas. This is not a win for wind and solar.

  3. Typical coal plants produce about 2,100 lb CO2/MWh.
    Typical NG fired steam or CT plants produce about 1,200 lb CO2/MWh.
    Typical NG fired combined cycles produce about 700 lb CO2/MWh.
    Combined cycles are about twice as efficient as Rankine or Brayton cycles.
    Guess which design the smart money is building?

  4. So, hydrocarbons are in. Green solutions, in spite of sociopolitical myths, are limited by their distributed impact on the environment and ecology, the blight factor, and carbon emissions throughout their relatively short, intermittent driver lifetimes. Good enough for low availability, personal use, and other niche applications.

  5. 1960s autos averaged 11 to 15 mpg; roughly.
    2020 autos (many of them) will get over 30 mpg, highway driving.

    electricity = wealth = investment dollars = innovation

    • But that was apparently for a 94 octane fuel for regular in the early 60s which is higher or equal to premium level gas now.

      Apples to oranges IMO. I would think the increase in MPG is greater on an octane to octane basis so you can actually assume a BETTER level of innovation for your equation than is apparent. Oh, also since ethanol is added to much of our gasoline supply, which reduces the MPG for any given octane level of today, your innovation items just keeps getting bigger in your equation.

      I really wish that all pumps were labeled for a standardized MPG for each grade including E85, and showed the change when gas is sold without any ethanol. (Standard octane without ethanol MPG as a baseline.) Then when you bought your fuel you would know what you were getting, and how much the greens are costing you without you even knowing it.

      Just saying.

      • It was called Phillip’s 66 back in the day because the octane they were bragging about was 66. Later on Union 76 was adopted as a name because they had managed to get most of their gasoline up to 76.

        94 octane was achieved in the sixties by the addition of Tetra-ethyl-lead. Lead is a dangerous environmental poison and one of those few true achievements that has made our nations air cleaner and less damaging.

        • Yes Theo, we have to applaud the changes that have a positive impact on our environment. We are always seeking better ways of doing things.

          Why I wonder, is it OK to cover vast areas of land with solar panels, risking the leaching of cadmium and lead into the soil and waterways in the event of an extreme weather event or fire?

      • In northern NY state, I am routinely able to get “ethanol free” premium gas. I don’t know what the legal arrangement is which allows that, but I suppose the primary demand is fuel for boats and snowmobiles, particularly antique inboards and older boat engines of all types.

        Just for giggles, I’ve been buying it for my car when I’m up there in the summers (2012 Hyundai Sonata, 6-speed stick shift — yes, I’m weird that way). There is a measurable mileage improvement, but it’s not worth the extra cost. Roughly 12-13% better for nearly 25% markup, generally.

  6. “The U.S. electricity sector is continuing to get cleaner, and both carbon intensity and overall emissions are dropping,”…still pushing that dirty CO2 pollution thang

  7. The mystery of the origins of this curious desire to reduce CO2 emissions when plants are screaming out for it, remains. Cleaning up truly toxic emissions would be a more rational focus. Wind and solar generation involves lots of toxic ingredients in creation and residues after their lifetime.

  8. EurekaAlertLinks sends you to a page that says

    Nine climate tipping points now ‘active,’ warn scientists

    Had to search for the correct link

    this is it : https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-11/coec-cio112719.php

    wanted to see if there were any more info to be had there because i found the paragraph i qute below to be very much in the way of ” inspired by the work of the writings of our Great Leader (Kim Something or other )”

    (quote)

    Compared to 2005, a year commonly used to benchmark progress in reducing emissions, the carbon intensity of the U.S. power sector is down more than 38% in 2019 Q2. Much of this progress comes simply from displacing coal with natural gas, though high-efficiency natural gas plants do account for a small portion of this reduction. Renewable sources, which Samaras expects will continue to add capacity to the power sector, account for most of the rest of this reduction in carbon intensity.

    (end quote)

    Was just wondering how big a slice of the reduction ” most of the rest ” compares to in reality to ” Much of + small portion” . (My guess it is tiny compared to even the “small portion” of the new HELE natgas driven powerplants , but cannot confirm or discard that guess from the press release )

  9. “Compared to Q2 of 2018, total U.S. power generation fell by 4% in Q2 of 2019, and the carbon intensity of the sector, measured in pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour, dropped by 9%. The U.S. electricity sector is continuing to get cleaner, and both carbon intensity and overall emissions are dropping”

    Thank god!
    That should help keep ENSO from spiraling out of control into monster El Nino events

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2019/11/29/agw-el-nino/

  10. We all know America needs a lot of energy produced if we are going to be able to continue living the life styles we are accustomed to. There are some that say life is going to be over in 10 or 12 years if America does not spend 70 Trillion dollars to turn things around. America is still going to be needing a lot of energy produced for hundreds of years yet.
    We have in the ground under us over 600 years of good quality coal available. With the Clean Coal technology available https://youtu.be/RQRQ7S92_lo this coal can be combusted and put into the atmosphere less CO2 than a natural gas fired power plant. And these power plants can last 50 to 70 years. How many times will the wind and solar have to be replaced over this time. How much CO2 emissions will be created dismantling and rebuilding and replacing these renewable wind and solar farms?
    America has a lot of natural gas. This energy needs to be used for building space heating and by industry to produce the products we consume every day. But this energy source also needs to be used much more efficiently than is being done today. There is way to much combusted natural gas energy going up chimneys across the country and being vented into the atmosphere as hot exhaust. Natural gas is an energy source that can be consumed to near 100% energy efficiency. Recover the heat energy from the combusted exhaust and utilize it. http://www.SidelSystems.com
    America’s oil needs to be used for transportation and by those industries that need oil to produce their products that we also consume heavily.
    We believe that our Renewables (solar & wind) should have it’s own grid network and be used to energize America’s expanding EV network. If the sun goes down and the wind stops blowing and the batteries go dead, then it’s time to park and call it a day. No harm done.

  11. “We’re in the middle of an energy transition right now, and the biggest part of that story in the U.S. is how swiftly coal has been declining over the past decade,” said Samaras.

    Wow, and the US wasn’t even trying to implement Energiewende, an energy transition, and yet has done so anyway and with little or no pain to consumers.

    Capitalism +1

  12. And still, despite being pretty much the only developed country to reduce emissions for real, it’s still being considered the bad boy on the block. Looks like no matter what the real facts are, as long as Donald Trump is president the US cannot be a force for good. At the same time, coal addict China cant do no wrong. Oh, this seems to change now. China gets well-deserved criticism and the US is still being vilified from within and from without. Hypocrisy …

  13. How do hydrocarbons fare per unit GDP? Are they viable? Nuclear? And per capita? The correlation between population planning schemes and progress of the Green Blight and green people is undeniable.

  14. I have this personal fault problem. Whenever I see/hear anyone saying ‘carbon’ when they mean carbon dioxide I assume they are lying. I must tackle this; it’s unworthy

  15. Despite the bad news that,“Carbon intensity of power sector down in 2019″ the USA economy is doing well. Our problem isn’t that we are emitting too much CO2, our problem is that we are not emitting enough. Back in 1973 – 2013, because of our “energy crisis”, industry strategies and government regulations created a perfect storm for destroying our energy intensive industries. It’s time to rebuilt these industries and put our coal back to work. bad mouthing China and India for their emissions for producing the goods we in the West require, but refuse to produce, is beyond stupid. We should admire their efforts.

  16. Most of the increase in CO2 seems to be from more people entering the workforce and then becoming consumers using more energy when living a better life. From 1990 to 2019 the world working population went from 2.32 billion to 3.49 billion workers a 57% increase, the CO2 level went from 212 to 354 ppm a 67% increase. From 1990 to 2015 nearly 1.1 billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990 that also would increase the amount of CO2 released.
    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.IN?end=2019&start=1990&view=chart
    http://mlg.eng.cam.ac.uk/carl/words/carbon.html
    https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *