Clean energy leads the way
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) just issued its must-read report on U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2009. It turns out energy-related CO2 emissions have dropped faster than EIA had expected just a few months ago (see my September post, “EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 “” halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target“).
Surely this country could reduce CO2 emissions a little more than 7% in 10 years and meet the modest target set out in the Senate climate bill, which appears likely to be introduced next week. It really isn’t bloody hard (see Game changer part 2: Unconventional gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet).
Yes, a part of the recent drop in CO2 is due to the recession, but actually that was only just a piece. Other key factors including low natural gas prices, gains in efficiency, state renewable energy standards, and a clean-energy-friendly stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).
The EIA has a very interesting figure that examines all the key factors and shows GDP drop is only about a third of the reason:
Yes, some of the energy intensity drop is the increasing shift toward a service sector economy, but much of it is the gain in efficiency as a result of the recent energy price spikes coupled with what many think is the beginning of a permanent shift in petroleum consumption in transportation — a shift that is likely to be accelerated as concerns about peak oil turn out to be accurate (see Deutsche Bank: Oil to hit $175 a barrel by 2016 and World’s top energy economist warns peak oil threatens recovery: “We have to leave oil before oil leaves us”).
What caused the carbon intensity drop?
Across all sectors of the economy, decreasing consumption of carbon-emitting fossil fuels resulted in both a lower carbon intensity and lower absolute emissions. Emissions from coal dropped 12.0 percent, petroleum emissions were down 5.3 percent and natural gas emissions were down 1.6 percent. Non-fossil fuel consumption, on the other hand increased about 2 percent.
The fuel mix and associated carbon intensity of most sectors have tended to be very stable over time. However, in 2009, the carbon intensity of the electric power sector decreased by nearly 4.3 percent, primarily due to fuel switching as the price of coal rose 6.8 percent from 2008 to 2009 while the comparable price of natural gas fell 48 percent on a per Btu basis.
Natural gas and renewables are a potent combination. Recent studies make clear even a very modest (rising) price for CO2 will continue this trend, steadily shutting down dirty, inefficient coal plants over the next couple of decades.
Over the past decade, it was wind power that lead the way in delivering carbon-free electricity to the utility sector:
EIA itself concludes:
… longer-term trends continue to suggest decline in both the amount of energy used per unit of economic output and the carbon intensity of our energy supply, which both work to restrain emissions.
The argument that a climate bill with the kind of modest targets now being considered would hurt the economy is clearly absurd.
The time to act was a while ago, but there is no longer any excuse for inaction now.