Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gas Beats Down Carbon Emissions Again: US Emissions Drop Another 6% So Far In 2012

The latest EIA data for energy related carbon emissions show them falling 6.3% in January-May 2012, compared to the same period in 2011.  How big is that?

Huge! It is as big a drop as happened in 2009, when the economy collapsed, but this time GDP grew both in 2011 and 2012.  The 2012 drop so far is much bigger than in 2011 but is made more impressive, because it follows 2011, when carbon emissions also decreased. Back-to-back years of falling carbon emissions remain unusual.

Carbon emissions for 2102 are on course to reach 1992, 1991, or even possibly 1990 levels. Just amazing!
The 2012 drop is due to mainly gas displacing coal to make electricity and falling oil consumption due to efficiency and growing oil substitutes.

Unlike previous reductions, the 2012 drop is not due to renewable energy, since total renewable energy production is down in 2012, as a result of a significant decline in hydro generation.


  1. Do you have a sense of what percentage of the falling emissions can be attributed to gas, renewables, energy efficiency and decreased consumption? I saw one paper trying to say that the switch from coal to gas was only responsible for 10% of the decrease. It was on a website that generally sees oil companies as the devil's spawn so I am pretty sure that number is low.

    Another question is what would have happened if not for shale gas. The price of gas would be so high that coal would probably be displacing gas, not the other way around.

    1. I have not done a precise calculation and it varies over time. For example the reductions in 2012 are not produced by renewable electricity because total renewable electricity is down this year from last year. But renewable electricity did help cut emissions in 2011 compared to 2010.

      My rough calculation is that gas has cut carbon emissions by displacing coal and some oil by about 400 to 600 million tons or about 50% of more of the decline in recent years.

      Had gas not dropped in price due to shale gas, the country would have built more coal plants--probably more than 100--and coal's market share of electricity production would have risen over the last 8 years.