Largest source of CO2 emissions in the US? No longer power plants!

Dec 4

Today, Bloomberg reports a significant transition in major contributors to US CO2 emissions. Power plants are no longer the largest source of CO2 emissions in the US. That “distinction” now belongs to the transportation sector.

The article, titled America Crowns a New Pollution King, appears here on Bloomberg’s homepage.

Why a transition from power plants to transportation?

Are there more cars on the road than ever before? No. Are there fewer power plants? Not exactly. The US power sector has experienced a major transition in the last 10 years. Many base load power plants are now powered by natural gas, instead of coal. Natural gas burns more cleanly and with lower CO2 emissions than coal-fired plants do.

In fact, as we reported back in August, the transition described today reflects many of the larger trends impacting the power sector (as originally reported by Greentech Media). They were: decarbonization, decentralization, vehicle electrification and energy access.

The Bloomberg article states:

Electricity use in the U.S. hasn’t declined much in the last decade, but it’s being generated from cleaner sources. A dramatic switch away from coal, the dirtiest fuel, is mostly responsible for the drop in emissions. Coal power has declined by more than a third in the last decade, according to the EIA, while cleaner natural gas has soared more than 60 percent. Wind and solar power are also increasingly sucking the greenhouse gases out of U.S. electricity production.

This graphic produced by the US Energy Information Agency shows the transition reported on by Bloomberg.

Transportation-based CO2 emissions exceed the power sector for the first time since 1978.

Bottom line for energy managers and financial decision makers: As a large user with an interest in sustainability you, too, may see a shift in your carbon footprint. It may soon be true that vehicle fleets contribute more to an organization’s CO2 footprint than building energy use. And, as  Bloomberg points out, soon we may see power plant emissions and vehicle-fleet emissions converge. The more we see electric vehicles grow in prominence, the more likely the convergence. 

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