Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

United States Carbon: Climate study predicts a watery future for New York, Boston and Miami


More than 1,700 American cities and towns – including BostonNew York, and Miami – are at greater risk from rising sea levels than previously feared, a new study has found.

By 2100, the future of at least part of these 1,700 locations will be “locked in” by greenhouse gas emissions built up in the atmosphere, the analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday found.

The survey does not specify a date by which these cities, or parts of them, would actually fall under water. Instead, it specifies a “locked-in” date, by which time a future under water would be certain – a point of no return.

Because of the inertia built into the climate system, even if all carbon emissions stopped immediately, it would take some time for the related global temperature rises to ease off. That means the fate of some cities is already sealed, the study says.

“Even if we could just stop global emissions tomorrow on a dime, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Gardens, Hoboken, New Jersey will be under sea level,” said Benjamin Strauss, a researcher at Climate Central, and author of the paper. Dramatic cuts in emissions – much greater than Barack Obama and other world leaders have so far agreed – could save nearly 1,000 of those towns, by averting the sea-level rise, the study found.

“Hundreds of American cities are already locked into watery futures and we are growing that group very rapidly,” Strauss said. “We are locking in hundreds more as we continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere.”

A recent study, also published in PNAS by the climate scientist Anders Levermann found each 1 degree Celsius rise in atmospheric warming would lead eventually to 2.3 meters of sea-level rise. The latest study takes those figures, and factors in the current rate of carbon emissions, as well as the best estimate of global temperature sensitivity to pollution.

For the study, a location was deemed “under threat” if 25 percent of its current population lives below the locked-in future high-tide level. Some 1,700 places are at risk in this definition. Even if bar is set higher, at 50 percent of the current population, 1,400 places would be under threat by 2100.

The list of threatened communities spans Sacramento, Calif. – which lies far from the sea but would be vulnerable to flooding in the San Joaquin delta – and Norfolk, Va. The latter town is home of America’s largest Navy base, whose miles of waterfront installations would be at risk of being locked in to future sea level rises by the 2040s. The Pentagon has already begun actively planning for a future under climate change, including relocating bases.

About half the population of Cambridge, Mass., across the Charles River from Boston and home to Harvard and MIT, could be locked in to a future below sea level by the early 2060s, the study found. Several coastal cities in Texas were also vulnerable.

But the region at highest risk was Florida, which has dozens of towns that will be locked by century’s end. The date of no return for much of Miami would be 2041, the study found. Half of Palm Beach with its millionaires’ estates along the sea front would be beyond saving by the 2060s. The point of no return for other cities such as Fort Lauderdale would come before that.

“Pretty much everywhere it seems you are going to be under water unless you build a massive system of dykes and levees,” Strauss said.

To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: No More Free-Pass for Carbon Pollution

For more than 40 years, the Clean Air Act has proved itself an effective, efficient and flexible tool that has safeguarded public health while fostering economic growth and innovation.

My colleagues and I at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new analysis today that finds curbing carbon pollution from power plants using the Clean Air Act would have similarly positive results.

In the analysis — “Less Carbon, More Jobs, Lower Bills” — we found that NRDC’s proposal to cut carbon pollution would create new jobs nationally and lower the average American’s monthly electric bill. This analysis is based on a proposal detailed in our December 2012 report “Closing the Power Plant Carbon Pollution Loophole: Smart Ways the Clean Air Act Can Clean Up America’s Biggest Climate Polluters.”

Specifically, we found that our proposed carbon standards would, in 2020, increase national employment by a net total of 210,000 jobs, lower average residential electricity bills by $0.90 per month and have essentially no overall impact on the nation’s GDP.

Total net jobs added by state (select U.S. states) in 2020 from carbon standard
Total net jobs added by state (select U.S. states) in 2020 from carbon standard.
Credit: NRDC.

The analysis

In December 2012, NRDC shared its proposalfor how the EPA could set carbon standards for power plants that would achieve big reductions at far lower cost than conventional wisdom would have suggested. At the same time, these actions would create vast benefits for the American people, including a surge of investment in energy efficiency. The plan would give EPA the flexibility it has under the Clean Air Act to set carbon reduction goals based in part on states’ current electric generation mixes. It would also allow power companies to draw from a wide range of options to meet emissions reduction targets.

With that kind of practical, flexible approach, we showed that EPA could reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020 (relative to the peak levels in 2005), while at the same time lowering electricity prices. The price tag? About $4 billion in 2020. But the benefits — in saved lives, reduced illnesses and avoided environmental damage — would be worth $25 billion to $60 billion, or six to 15 times greater than those costs.

That report outlined the big picture. Today, we are releasing a companion analysis that digs into the details and examines how our proposal would affect jobs, GDP and electricity bills for average Americans. This analysis also examines how our proposal would look in several states around the country.

Nationally, we see a total net gain of 210,000 jobs in 2020. Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia jobs would increase and electric bills would decrease. Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota would see job gains, and Maine residents would save on their electric bills.

Energy efficiency upgrades are the primary driver of job gains in the analysis, responsible for 236,000 additional direct jobs in 2020. Shifts in other sectors (including not just power plants, but also industries that supply inputs to the production of these plants) would reduce the net increase to 210,000; some job gains are also offset because households would be spending money on energy efficiency measures instead of other economy-wide goods and services.

Energy bill savings occur even though the efficiency programs add costs to electricity bills. This is because these charges are still lower than the cost of electricity required without such efficiency changes. While electricity rates (cents per kilowatt-hour) could go up modestly in some cases, electricity bills (rate multiplied by usage) go down, on average, because energy efficiency improvements reduce overall electricity consumption.

Carbon Standard Bills changes
Changes in net job years and utility bills in the United States and in selected states from carbon standard in 2020 (policy case relative to business-as-usual).
Credit: NRDC.

Conservative estimates

Our estimates are conservative.

In the report, changes in utility bills capture savings from energy efficiency only for the year 2020, yet energy efficiency upgrades installed up to that point will continue to have benefits for consumers for many years beyond. The bill savings we estimated reflect up-front charges on electricity bills for energy-efficiency programs and investments in cleaner generation, all of which occur in 2020, minus savings gained from avoiding some energy generation in 2020 alone).

Additionally, the analysis did not include two positive impacts our proposal would have on GDP; due to modeling limitations, we had to leave these effects out. First, we did not calculate productivity improvements to the economy that would result from the $25 billion to $60 billion in health and environmental benefits. These improvements could be significant: a series of studies led by Dale Jorgenson at Harvard University concluded that the healthier workforce resulting from the Clean Air Act increased GDP by as much as 1.5 percent by 2010. Similar to other environmental damages , climate change disrupts worker productivity because of work days lost to extreme weather (e.g. from damages to homes, businesses, and transportation and other infrastructure) and climate-related illnesses (e.g. exacerbated respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, and emergency room visits during heat-waves for various health impacts). Extreme heat also directly lowers the productivity of outdoor workers.

Second, our proposed carbon standard reduces wholesale electricity prices in the regions we studied in the eastern part of the country due to reduced electricity demand and the form of the output-based standard (the regulatory limit on power-plant outputs). However, we did not estimate the positive effect this price drop would have on businesses and economy-wide production.

Details aside, though, the big picture is clear. Climate change is fueling extreme weather, heat, drought, forest fires, asthma and many other effects that are harming our children’s health and their future. Yet, one of the largest sources of the dangerous heat-trapping gases driving climate change, our nation’s power plants, emit with no carbon limits whatsoever. They areresponsible for almost 40 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution in the United States.

President Obama has laid out a robust plan for tackling climate change, noting that we have an obligation to protect future generations from its effects.

“Today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants,” he announced in presenting his climate plan on June 25, 2013.

The centerpiece of that plan is the task of cleaning up dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. These plants are our biggest source of carbon pollution, and while they must observe strict limits for arsenic, mercury, lead and other emissions, they face no limits for their carbon dioxide pollution.

As President Obama said, “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

So the president is outlining a common-sense step, using a common-sense tool: the Clean Air Act. Just as we used this act to set limits for arsenic, mercury, lead and other dangerous pollution coming from power plants, we can set limits to efficiently cut the carbon pollution these plants emit.

Our two analyses demonstrate that NRDC’s proposal for reducing carbon pollution from power plants by 26 percent in 2020 will add over 200,000 jobs to the U.S. economy, save Americans money on their electric bills and avoid up to $60 billion in health impacts and other climate-related costs.

When we consider that climate change is already happening in the United States, already affecting communities all across the nation, we think that having a path forward to less carbon, more jobs and lower bills is the right path to take.

To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: Boulder City Council Wants 80 Percent Greenhouse Gas Reduction By 2050

Boulder should pursue an aggressive goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and it can do that without extreme austerity if it can add a lot of renewable energy in the next decade through a municipal utility, City Council members said Tuesday night.

At a study session, the City Council took up the question of what the city’s new climate goal should be, now that the Kyoto Protocol is widely viewed as inadequate to slow climate change: carbon neutrality or 80 percent reductions by 2050.

Many climate scientists believe at least 80 percent reductions are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of global warming.

Councilwoman Lisa Morzel supported the more ambitious goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality and pointed to the example of some European countries that have made significant strides in adding renewables and changing energy use.

City Council members did not take a vote Tuesday because they were in a study session, but a majority said they supported the 80 percent goal as more feasible and better defined.

Councilman Ken Wilson said to achieve complete carbon neutrality, the city would need to account for the goods residents buy, the food they eat, their airplane travel and every other product and service they use.

Without changing the energy supply, achieving an 80 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would require Boulder residents to cut their electricity use a quarter by 2020 and in half by 2030. They would have to reduce their travel by car from an average of 20 miles a day in 2013 to less than four miles in 2050.

But Senior Environmental Planner Brett KenCairn said the future could be one of energy abundance and economic prosperity if Boulder adds significant renewable energy and positions itself as a leader in emerging technologies related to energy conservation and clean energy.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do morally and ethically,” he said. “It’s actually the most powerful economic engine we could engage our community in to position ourselves for the future. The path to austerity is if we stay tied to carbon energy. The future is very bright with renewable energy.”

For example, with cleaner electricity, people could drive electric cars without adding to the city’s emissions.

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said more important than the city’s stated goal is the rate at which it makes progress. With a municipal utility, the city could get half of its electricity from renewable sources within a few years.

But Councilman George Karakehian said the city may end up buying power from Xcel Energy for several years even if it forms its own utility.

Councilwoman Suzy Ageton said the city should be careful not to make commitments about things that are out of the city’s control.

Environmental planners are working on five- and 10-year targets to keep the city on track to meet the new climate goal, which is expected to be formally adopted in early 2014, as well as new tools to help them measure their progress.

The city may eventually adopt new commercial energy-efficiency mandates, but planners say they first need better ways to track energy use in more complicated commercial buildings that may have multiple tenants or a wide variety of business types.

Boulder is also working with other cities, along the Front Range and in the Pacific Northwest, to share ideas and experiences working to reduce emissions.

One idea the city is considering — borrowed from Portland — is the idea of “eco districts,” neighborhood organizations that would work on efforts to reduce emissions that matched local priorities, whether that was improving pedestrian safety so people can walk more or contracting collectively for solar panels.

The effort will be tied into other city initiatives, from the transportation master plan to neighborhood design to building codes.

To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: CSI reports encouraging carbon reduction data

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)’s Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) has published the latest update to the ‘Getting the Numbers Right’ database, which shows significant CO2 emissions reductions and improved efficiency.

As the cement industry’s global database of CO2 emissions and performance, the latest ‘Getting the Numbers Right’ (GNR) data for 2011 shows that the industry has reduced its specific net CO2 emissions per tonne of cementitious product by 17 per cent since 1990 (from 756kg/t to 629kg/t)1.

The GNR figures provide evidence of the gradual decoupling of emissions and cement output, which demonstrates the significant progress made by the industry: cement production by GNR companies increased by 74 per cent between 1990 and 2011, absolute CO2 emissions increased by only by 44 per cent over this period. Between 2010 and 2011, while cement production volume covered by the GNR increased from 840Mt to 888Mt cementitious volume), specific net CO2 emissions have decreased from 638kg/t to 629kg/t of cementitious product.

Commenting on the encouraging data, Philippe Fonta, WBCSD managing director, said: “GNR demonstrates how an effective measuring, reporting and verification system can be developed and managed for and by an entire industry sector. GNR has become established as a valuable source of independently verified emissions data, which is now used globally by the cement industry to improve energy efficiency and further reduce emissions. It is also accessed widely by policy-makers, analysts and other interested stakeholders.”

According to the data, the four main drivers for the reduction in emissions are:
• investment in more efficient kiln technology
• increasing use of alternative fuels such as biomass2
• reduction in clinker content3
• an eight per cent decrease in electricity use per tonne of cement since 1990.

The 2011 data also now comprises 55 per cent of cement production outside of China, with 96 per cent coverage in Europe spanning 967 individual facilities. Four new country reports are released for the first time: Thailand, Morocco, Philippines and Egypt providing more relevant national data in these countries.

About the GNR

Now in its seventh year of publication and the largest global database of its kind, the GNR is a voluntary, independently managed database of CO2 and energy performance information on the global cement industry. The most recent data released is for 2011 in compliance with anti-trust legislation.

The GNR uses a common methodology for data collection and reporting, of which 94 per cent is independently verified.  Whilst the database is managed by the CSI, participation is nott limited to its members. Cement producers worldwide are encouraged to report their emissions through the GNR project and cement trade associations have played a particularly active role in encouraging member companies to  make their emissions data available.

The GNR data is available online at


1: For specific gross CO2 emissions the reduction was 15 per cent over the same time span.
Gross CO2 emissions: direct CO2 emissions (excl. on-site electricity production) minus emissions from biomass fuel sources.

Net CO2 emissions: gross CO2 emissions minus emissions from alternative fossil fuels
Cementitious products are all clinker volumes produced by a company for cement making or direct clinker sale, plus gypsum, limestone, CKD, and all clinker substitutes consumed for blending, plus all cement substitutes produced. Clinker bought from third parties for the production of cement is excluded.

2: While a few plants have been able to replace up to over 90 per cent of conventional fuels, the global average replacement is around 13 per cent in 2011 (compared to only two per cent in 1990).

3: Clinker-to-cement ratio exhibits some variations in different regions due to the specific minerals added in the concrete manufacturing process. Globally, the average % of clinker in cement is 76 per cent (compared to 83 per cent in 1990).

To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: Buildings Account for 39% of CO 2 emissions in the United States

The commercial and residential building sector accounts for 39% of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions in the United States per year, more than any other sector. U.S. buildings alone are responsible for more CO 2 emissions annually than those of any other country except China. Most of these emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment. By transforming the built environment to be more energy-efficient and climate-friendly, the building sector can play a major role in reducing the threat of climate change.

A growing source of CO2 emissions:
  • In 2004, total emissions from residential and commercial buildings were 2236 million metric tons of CO 2 , or 39% of total U.S. CO 2 emissions—more than either the transportation or industrial sector
  • Over the next 25 years, CO 2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector, with emissions from commercial buildings projected to grow the fastest—1.8% a year through 2030
  • When other CO 2 emissions attributable to buildings are considered—such as the emissions from the manufacture and transport of building construction and demolition materials and transportation associated wi th urban sprawl—the result is an even greater impact on the climate

Buildings consume 70% of the electricity load in the U.S. The most significant factor contributing to CO 2 emissions from buildings is their use of electricity:

  • Commercial and residential buildings are tremendous users of electricity, accounting for more than 70% of electricity use in the U.S.
  • The building sector consumed 40 quadrillion Bt us of energy in 2005 at a cost of over $300 billion. Energy use in the sector is projected to increase to 50 quadrillion Btus at a cost of $430 billion by the year 2025.
  • The energy impact of buildings is likely to be even greater when taking into account other energy use attributable to buildin gs. For example, the energy embodied in a single building’s envelope equals 8-10 times t he annual energy used to heat and cool the building.
  • Buildings have a lifespan of 50-100 years during which they continually consume energy and produce CO 2 emissions. If half of new commercial buildings were built to use 50% less energy, it would save over 6 million metric tons of CO 2 annually for the life of the buildings—the equivalent of taking more than 1 million cars off the road every year.

Green buildings are a vital tool in the fight against climate change

Scientists predict that left unchecked, emissions of CO 2 and other greenhouse gases from human activities will raise global temperatures by 2.5ºF to 10ºF this century. The effects will be profound, and may include rising sea levels, more frequent floods and droughts, and increased spread of infectious diseases. To address the threat of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be sl owed, stopped, and reversed. Meeting the challenge will require dramatic advances in technologies and a shift in how the world economy generates and uses energy.

Building green is one of the best strategies for meeting the challenge of climate change because the technology to make substantial reductions in energy and CO 2 emissions already exists. The average LEED certified building uses 32% less electricity and saves 350 metric tons of CO 2 emissions annually. Modest investments in energy-saving and other climate-friendly technologies can yield buildings and communities that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthier places to live and work, and that contribute to reducing CO 2 emissions.

Green buildings provide abundant opportunities for saving energy and mitigating CO 2 emissions

Building green can reduce CO2 emissions while improving the bottom line through energy and other savings. Examples of measures that can be taken to improve building performance include:

  • Incorporating the most efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, along with operations and maintenance of such systems to assure optimum performance
  • Using state of the art lighting and optimizing daylighting
  • Using recycled content building and interior materials
  • Reducing potable water usage
  • Using renewable energy
  • Implementing proper construction waste management
  • Siting the building near public transportation
  • Using locally produced building materials

To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: Scientists Size Up U.S. Carbon Storage Potential

There appears to be more than enough room to bury our emissions, but large-scale carbon capture remains untested.

How much carbon dioxide could the U.S. store underground? The answer depends on both geology and engineering, and estimates of the nation’s storage capacity have varied widely. Now the United States Geological Survey has weighed in, releasing its first-ever “detailed national geologic carbon sequestration assessment.” The study, which refers to today’s engineering practices as well as “current geologic and hydrologic knowledge of the subsurface,” concludes that there are enough “technically accessible” onshore storage resources to accommodate 500 times the country’s total energy-related emissions in 2011.

This may seem like great news, but it should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. In reality, the extent to which we can rely on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is very unclear. The technology—which generally entails capturing carbon dioxide at a power plant, compressing it to a near-liquid state, and injecting it into porous rock formations deep underground—is prohibitively expensive, and has yet to be tested at the scale required to significantly dent emissions. Some researchers have also raised questions about the viability of large-scale CCS because it could induce earthquakes (See: “Researchers Say Earthquakes Would Let Stored CO2 Escape”). And, perhaps most importantly, each candidate site is unique; recent research has shown that individual storage sites can exhibit very different geomechanical responses to carbon dioxide injection.

All this is why it’s worth keeping eye on Canada’s plan to use CCS to reduce the carbon footprint of its growing oil sands industry—an important first test of CCS as a legitimate tool for cutting emissions. (See “Can Carbon Capture Clean Up Canada’s Oil Sands?”)

Meanwhile, below is a map showing the various sedimentary basins the USGS assessed for the study. The dark grey areas indicate sites that were assessed, and lighter grey represents evaluated areas that were not assessed because they failed to meet certain minimum requirements for carbon dioxide storage.


To learn more about United States Carbon and our energy reduction technology that will help you become greener, cleaner, and more socially responsible please contact us at (855) 393-7555 or visit our website:

United States Carbon: Can Obama’s Climate Change Policy Reduce Carbon Emissions?

carbon emissions

President Obama recently presented the latest version of his Climate Policy.  In addition to expanding on the scope of previous plans that would increase clean energy supplies, energy efficiency, and reduce high global warming potential gases, the President now recommends better preparing the country for future climate impacts, and has directed the EPA to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants.  While the current plan covers a very broad range of climate related strategies, the question is: how successful can this new proposed policy be in actually reducing U.S. carbon emissions in the future?

History of the Current Administration’s Climate Policy

The Democratically controlled House developed and passed the American Climate and Energy Security Act (ACESA) in 2009.  Besides creating a U.S. carbon cap-and-trade program, ACESA 2009 would have established an initial carbon emission target of reducing 2005 levels by 17% in 2020.  Despite the apparent strong support by the Democratic Party and the President, the Democratically controlled Senate failed to consider any form of ACESA 2009.

Prior to the recent Copenhagen Summit negotiations the President announced his Climate Policy plans to possibly commit the U.S. to carbon reductions identical to ACESA 2009.  Once again the Democratically controlled Senate did not support the Copenhagen Summit due to issues concerning the economy (and political?).

The Administration’s next round of developing a Climate Policy was to incorporate different elements into a combined Energy-Climate Policy proposal.  Besides including many yet to be realized ‘all of the above’ energy strategies, the policy covered diversifying energy sources including renewable power, clean coal and nuclear.  Clean coal development was somewhat sidelined by the EPA’s new ‘mercury and toxic standards’ (MATS) that effectively prevented the construction of new coal power plants.  Due to a combination of the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster and historic anti-nuclear opposition, U.S. nuclear power capacity has stagnated and possibly peaked in recent years.

On June 27, 2013 President Obama presented a speech on his most recent version of a Climate Policy.  Besides proposing the U.S. become more involved internationally, the issue of controlling carbon emissions from power plants has clearly become a new priority.

Recent U.S. Carbon Emissions Performance

U.S. carbon emissions (from consumption of fossil fuels) peaked in 2007 at 6023 million metric tons per year (MMT/yr.) and total emissions have since declined by about 12% in 2012.  This reduction in carbon emissions has been due primarily to reduced coal and petroleum consumption.  Natural gas consumption actually increased by almost 10% 2007-12.

The reduction in overall U.S. carbon emissions has been due to a number of factors.  The largest contributing factor is due to recent increases in domestic production and decline in natural gas prices.  This development led to substantial ‘fuels switching’ from more expensive coal to cheaper natural gas.  The second largest contributing factor is due to increased light vehicle fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) put in place by past Administrations and recently updated by the current Administration.  The third largest carbon emission reduction factor is due to a combination of general energy efficiency upgrades and the 2007-09 economic recession.  The combination of these top-3 factors accounted for about 83% of reduced U.S. carbon emissions 2007-12.

Wind and solar power generation capacities have increased by 600% and 300% respectively over the past five years.  Expansion of these renewables have accounted for about 13% of total reduced U.S. carbon emissions 2007-12.

Current Projected U.S. Carbon Emissions

The DOE/EIA routinely develops projections for U.S. energy consumption and associated carbon emissions.  These projections include the impacts of all significant regulations and market factors that can affect energy production and consumption.  The latest projection, ‘Annual Energy Outlook 2013’ (AEO 2013), includes the impacts of the latest new CAFE standards, increased oil & gas production, further recovery from the most recent economic recession, and growth in population and GDP.

The AEO 2013 (reference case) report projects that total U.S. carbon emissions are expected to increase 2013-20.  This increase is due to projected growth in natural gas and coal consumption over the next 7 years.  These results are somewhat surprising considering the recent progress made since 2007 in reducing U.S. carbon emissions, particularly in the growth of renewables and improved energy efficiency.  While the EIA projects that renewables and energy efficiency will continue to grow significantly through 2020, the full recovery of the economy and growth in population are anticipated to more than off-set these gains in clean energy and efficiency.

Feasible Actions to Achieve Obama’s Climate Policy Carbon Emission Target

President Obama’s current Climate Policy addresses a number of factors not included in the AEO 2013 report.  The most significant missing factors appear to be the carbon target of reducing 2005 levels by 17% in 2020 and limiting power plant carbon emissions.  Achieving such a carbon reduction target would reduce U.S. total emissions to 4,979 MMT/yr. in 2020.  Since 2005 actual U.S. carbon emissions have been reduced from 5,999 MMT/yr. to 5,290 MMT/yr. in 2012.  This 709 MMT/yr. reduction in U.S. carbon emissions was due to the combination of fuels-switching, efficiency upgrades and the economic recession.  As the U.S. more fully recovers from the recent economic recession how can the current level of U.S. carbon emissions be feasibly reduced to 4,979 MMT/yr. in 2020?

The AEO 2013 currently predicts that U.S. total carbon emissions will increase to 5,455 MMT/yr. in 2020.  Achieving Obama’s published Climate Policy target by 2020 means reducing current U.S. total carbon emissions by 476 MMT/yr.  While this reduction over the next 7 years only represents 2/3rds of the reduction achieved over the past 5 years, the challenge will likely be quite significant as the overall economy fully recovers from the 2007-09 economic recession and GDP annual growth returns to normal historic average levels.

Many of the newly proposed Climate Policy solutions to reduced U.S. carbon emission, such as increased CAFE, Residential energy efficiency, renewable power, etc., are already included in the current AEO 2013 projections.  Added improvements such as new heavy duty vehicle efficiency standards and further biofuels developments are highly uncertain due to lack of currently proven technologies.  Future technology innovations and breakthroughs in these areas are possible, but yet to be commercially developed.  To most feasibly achieve the 2020 carbon reduction target will likely require building on recent successes in reducing carbon emissions (2007-12) and the EPA’s new mission to substantially reduce power plant carbon emissions.

The largest contributing factor towards reduced carbon emissions over the past 5 years has been fuels-switching from coal-to-natural gas.  Since natural gas power generation carbon emissions are only about 40% that of equivalent coal power generation, this strategy will likely be further required in the near future in order to achieve substantial carbon emission reductions by 2020.  Such a fuels-switching carbon reduction strategy would also be very consistent with the EPA’s mandate to reduce power plant carbon emissions.

Based on coal-to-natural gas fuels-switching a carbon balance was developed from the AEO 2013 reference case total annual carbon emission data.  Refer to the following table.

EIA Reported and Projected Data – 2005/2012 and 2020

Million Metric Tons Carbon Emissions per Year


Data sources – EIA ‘Monthly Energy Reports’ (MER) and AEO 2013 data performance for 2020.  The (17%) 2020 data are based on displacing coal power generation with cleaner natural gas power.

The above data shows that by displacing coal power with natural gas power generation capacity total U.S. carbon emission in 2020 could be readily reduced by 17% of 2005 levels.  This would effectively reduce current coal power generation capacity by almost half, and, natural gas power capacity would increase by about 2/3rds in 2020.

Obama’s latest Climate Policy includes many strategies that could further reduce carbon emissions or reduce the need for coal-to-natural gas fuels-switching.  Further increased wind and solar power generation is a reasonably feasible action.  The AEO 2013 projects that wind + solar power will only increase by about 25% during 2012-20.  This level of renewable power supply could be possibly quadrupled through increased Government support during the same period.  By effectively doubling current wind + solar power generation 2012-20 this would reduce natural gas power plant fuel consumption by an equivalent of almost 40 MMT/yr. of carbon emissions in 2020.  Similarly, increasing the energy efficiency of the Residential and Commercial Sectors has the potential to reduce the need for future coal power plant generation and associated carbon emissions by up to another 100 MMT/yr.; depending on efficiency upgrade costs, future energy-power costs and the level of new Government subsidies.

Natural Gas Production Will be Critical to Future Reduced U.S. Carbon Emissions.

In an ideal world high carbon intensity coal could be totally replaced by zero-carbon renewable wind and solar power generation.  However, these renewable technologies are still constrained due to their normal variable power generation performance.  While wind and solar can displace natural gas peaking and intermediate power plants fuels consumption, these renewable power sources cannot currently displace significant ‘base load’ coal power generation capacity or the level of required natural gas generation capacity required to backup all variable renewable power supplies.  Only when industrial scale power storage becomes an economically feasible and available reality, will variable wind and solar be able to displace substantial fossil fuels base load power capacity.

During the interim until industrial scale power storage becomes available, lower carbon natural gas will be required to maintain power grid supply-demand balances, stabilities and overall general reliabilities.  Other low-zero carbon power generation alternatives are currently available to displace natural gas including hydropower, geothermal, solar thermal and possibly nuclear.  However, a broad range of economic, permitting, environmental impact and political barriers continue to hold back more significant development of these lower-zero carbon alternatives to natural gas.

Domestic Natural Gas Production will be Another Critical Factor

The AEO 2013 projects U.S. domestic natural gas production will only increase by about 1.5% per year 2012-20.  This is a relatively conservative forecast based on recent history.  Since 2005 U.S. natural gas production (dry) has increased an average of 4% per yr. due to innovative hydraulic fracturing technology.  Increasing natural gas power generation as shown in the above data table would increase the Power Sector’s natural gas consumption by about 3.3 Trillion cubic feet per year above the maximum production levels in the AEO 2013 report.  If this EIA estimate was accurate, fuels-switching to reduce half of coal power generation could result in a very significant shortage of available domestic natural gas supply and create a new need for imports before 2020.  However, if more recent actual increases of domestic natural gas production continue for at least the next several years, supplying the future need for fuels-switching and reduced carbon emissions should not be an issue.  This domestic natural gas production-supply concern will also be reduced if proposed Climate Policy strategies to further increase wind + solar power capacity and increased energy efficiency are significantly successful.

Another natural gas supply and disposition issue that will be impacted are the recently approved LNG export projects.  The Administration recently approved projects in Pennsylvania and Texas to allow LNG exports in the near future.  With the apparent need to reduce coal consumption most likely via fuels-switching, any future approval of LNG export projects could be inconsistent with the proposed Climate Policy carbon reduction target.  Substantially increasing the level of coal-to-natural gas fuels-switching may also make it necessary to shutdown approved U.S. LNG exports-facilities in the near future.

Reduced U.S. Carbon Emissions Cost Impacts

Shutting down almost 50% of all existing coal power generation and expanding natural gas power generation capacity by up to 67%, plus some level of further expanded wind + solar power, will require substantial capital and operating cost increases 2014-20.  As natural gas consumption rapidly increases, the current excess domestic production-supply market condition could rapidly disappear, leading to substantial increases in future natural gas prices.  These added costs to reduce U.S. total 2005 carbon emissions by 17% in 2020 will substantially increase power costs.  Consumers could experience on the order of 50%+ increases in future power costs compared to AEO 2013 projections.  How much of this increase in power costs will be possibly off-set by the proposed Climate Policy energy efficiency upgrades or further increases of other renewables will likely be strongly debated in the near future as the Obama Administration begins implementing the new policy actions through different Executive Orders.

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