Revolution in Progress: US Emissions at Lowest Since 1994
February 4, 2013
OK, we can argue about Natural gas as being totally good news. I’m not convinced that “lower emissions” takes into account possible methane leaks from natural gas fracking fields. But my take-away here is that transformation is happening now, efficiency is up, renewable prices are down, coal, in the US at least, is in full retreat.
America’s carbon dioxide emissions last year fell to their lowest levels since 1994, according to a new report.
Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 13% in the past five years, because of new energy-saving technologies and a doubling in the take-up ofrenewable energy, the report compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) said.
The reduction in climate pollution – even as Congress failed to act on climate change – brings America more than halfway towards Barack Obama’s target of cutting emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next decade, the Bloomberg analysts said.
By the end of last year, America’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had fallen 10.7% from the 2005 baselines.
That drop puts Obama in a better position to defend his environmental achievements, which have often gone overlooked in the bitter rows over climate science.
It may also buoy up America’s standing in the global climate negotiations.
As described by Bloomberg, the US is in the throes of a major shift in energy production. Coal fell to just 18.1% of America’s energy mix last year, down from 22.5% in 2007. Oil use also declined.
The explosion of natural gas production, thanks to fracking, filled much of the gap. America got 31% of its electricity from gas-fired power plants last year.
But the report found steadily expanding installation of wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy. Renewables represented the largest single source of new growth last year, reaching $44bn in 2012, the report said, the report said.
Over the same time span, total energy use fell since 2007, by 6.4%, the report said. Most of the emissions cuts were due to installing more efficient heating and cooling systems in commercial building.
Other cuts in emission came from transport, with 488,000 Americans last year opting for hybrid and plug-in vehicles.
● The levelized costs of electricity for renewable technologies have plummeted. For example, the cost of electricity generated by average large solar power plants has fallen from $0.31 per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to $0.14 per kilowatt-hour in 2012, according to our global benchmarking analysis based on already financed projects from around the world. (These figures exclude the effect of tax credits and other incentives, which would bring those costs down even lower.) Over the same period, the cost of power from a typical large wind farm has fallen from $0.09 in 2009 to $0.08 per kilowatt-hour.
● Energy efficiency is making its mark on the grid and on buildings. Since 1980, energy intensity of commercial buildings has decreased by over 40%, propelled by increasingly sophisticated approaches to financing for energy efficiency retrofits, as well as by standards, such as those that apply to heating and cooling units and to thermal performance (ie, insulation). Overall, US utility budgets for energy efficiency reached $7bn in 2011 (the latest available date for which data exists). Demand response capacity, which typically involves the curtailment of electricity consumption at times of peak usage, has grown by more than 250% between 2006 and 2011, allowing major power consumers such as manufacturers to cut their energy costs and utilities to scale back production from some of the costliest power plants. Some 46m smart meters have been deployed in the US, while spending on smart grid roll-outs hit $4.3bn in 2012, up from $1.3bn in 2008.
● Policy is potent. Though the levelized costs of electricity of many renewable generation technologies have fallen drastically, most of these technologies still rely on incentives to compete. State-level mandates have been important drivers for renewable growth in the US, though in the case of most states, quotas for the next several years have already been satisfied. Policy measures have also helped further the cause of energy efficiency: Energy Star-certified commercial building floor space has increased by 139% from 2008 to 2012, and the stringency of building air conditioning efficiency standards has increased by up to 34% since 2005. There are, however, some clean energy technologies which are ready (or on the brink of being ready) to operate in the marketplace without any incentives or policy directives at all.