Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stunning Fact: US Carbon Emissions From Coal Are Down 19% Since 2005

The most recent EIA date drive home coal's shrinking share of America's total energy related carbon emissions. Consider these facts.

Carbon emissions from coal steadily increased from 1973 to 2005, when they peaked in the USA.  Starting at 1.2 billion tons in 1973, coal's carbon emissions hit 2.18 billion at their top in 2005, where they flattened through 2008. Starting in 2008, coal's carbon emissions plunged, as primarily natural gas and secondarily renewable energy began to replace large amounts of coal in power generation.

In 2012, the big plunge in coal's carbon emissions pushed coal's annual emissions down to 1.66 billion tons, a decline of 420 million tons or 19% from the 2005 peak.  The 2012 coal number is substantially lower than even the 2009 near depression year.

Indeed, at this point, coal's contribution to total energy related carbon emissions is down to 32% or much lower than the 42% attributable to oil.  The question becomes, is the plunge in coal's carbon emissions since 2008 an anomaly or a long-term trend?

With the recent rise in natural gas prices to $4 for a thousand cubic feet, up more than 100% from the April 2012 low, coal-fired power plants are projected to recapture some market share in 2012, and so coal's 2013 carbon emissions may rise marginally.  It, however, should be noted that coal's emissions in December 2012 were about 2% lower than those in December 2011.  Any increase in 2013 over 2012 is likely to be small.

The outcome of market competition between gas and coal, the growth rates of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and public policy will determine whether the sharp decline over the last 4 years in coal's carbon emissions continues in the next 5 years.

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