Tag Archives: Energy Information Administration

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.

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: www.unitedstatescarbon.com

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from developing countries will be 127 percent higher than in the world’s most developed economies by 2040

Under the policies currently in place worldwide, carbon emissions will grow 46 percent by 2040 from a 2010 baseline, the EIA projected in its biennial International Energy Outlook.

Energy-related emissions will total around 45.5 billion tonnes in 2040, up from a reference level of 31.2 billion tonnes in 2010, said the agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Developing countries’ carbon dioxide emissions will outpace emissions from the developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) over the next three decades due to their generally stronger rate of economic growth and continued use of fossil fuels.

The projection for developing countries‘ emissions to vastly exceed OECD emissions in 2040 compares with 2010, when non-OECD emissions exceeded OECD emissions by just 38 percent.

The fast economic growth of China and India over the coming years will play a central role in the global outlook for energy demand. “These two countries combined account for half the world’s total increase in energy use through 2040,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.

The report also projects that the carbon intensity of energy production will by 2040 have declined by 1.9 percent in OECD countries and by 2.7 percent in non-OECD countries from 2010 levels. Lower intensity levels mean there is less pollution produced per unit of economic output.

The EIA lowered its forecast of emissions in OECD countries in 2035 relative to its previous projection in 2011.

Although carbon emissions rose between the previous estimate and the current outlook in Japan, which had to substitute some of its lost nuclear capacity with fossil fuels after the 2011 tsunami, lower emissions in the United States due to a shift to shale gas and in the OECD nations of Europe offset the increase, said senior international energy analyst Linda Doman.

Multilateral international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, have in recent weeks sought to lower fossil fuel use in developing countries and voted to curtail their investments in coal projects overseas. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Beech)

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: www.unitedstatescarbon.com

United States Carbon: Fossil Fuels to Dominate World Energy Use Through 2040

Global energy consumption will grow by 56 percent by 2040 with fossil fuels remaining dominant energy sources. Along with that growth will come increased carbon dioxide emissions and a continued reliance on  coal, oil, and natural gas for transportation and electricity generation, according to a new report published Thursday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The International Energy Outlook, which is released every two years, shows that strong economic growth in developing countries will be the dominant force driving world energy markets during that period.

“Rising prosperity in China and India is a major factor in the outlook for global energy demand. These two countries combined account for half the world’s total increase in energy use through 2040,” said EIA administrator Adam Sieminski in a press release. The EIA is the Department of Energy’s statistical and analytical agency.

Credit: Flickr/Otodo

Energy use in developing countries, for example, is projected to increase by 90 percent by 2040, while industrialized nations will see a comparatively paltry increase of 17 percent. By 2040, China’s energy demand is expected to be twice that of the U.S., the report projected.

“This is good news, this is rising prosperity,” Sieminski said at an energy event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday. “The question is how do we accomodate rising prosperity and still maintain energy security and the environment?”

According to the report, renewable energy sources as well as nuclear power will be the fastest-growing energy sources during the next few decades, each growing at 2.5 percent per year, while natural gas will be the fastest-growing fossil fuel. However, in 2040, coal will remain the second-largest fuel source behind petroleum and other liquid fuels, assuming that governments do not enact new policies to limit the use of fossil fuels in order to rein in emissions of global warming pollutants, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). The EIA omitted potential policies from its analysis due to the uncertainties about whether, when, and how they will be implemented.

“The EIA tries to stay out of the business of forecasting policy developments,” Sieminski said at a press conference on Thursday.

Of the renewable energy sources, the report projects that wind and hydropower will see the fastest growth, with wind dominating in developed nations, and hydropower projects more limited to developing countries. By 2040, the report projects, renewables’ share of world energy use will be 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2010.

Importantly, though, the report projects that, despite robust growth in renewables, fossil fuels will continue to supply nearly 80 percent of world energy use through 2040.

It’s predicted that in 2040, coal will remain the second-largest energy source worldwide, with a greater reliance on coal seen in developing countries such as China and India compared to industrialized nations. The report projects that coal’s share of world energy consumption will stop growing during the next decade, and will decline after 2025, due in part to government policies that have already been put in place to encourage the use of cleaner-burning fuels, as well as market developments that have made natural gas a cheaper fuel for generating electricity.

Manmade emissions of carbon dioxide in 2012 likely reached 35.6 billion tons. That’s up 2.6 percent from what was emitted in 2011, the previous record.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central

The report projects that the greatest growth in nuclear power will take place in China, India, and South Korea, with China accounting for more than 40 percent of the global net increase in nuclear capacity. “The China story is an interesting one,” Sieminski said. “This is going to be a reach and a stretch I think for China to do this and to manage it.”

Compared to the last International Energy Outlook, released in 2011, this report projects greater growth in coal use. That has important implications for global warming, since coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and studies show that the timing of emissions reductions are critical to determining how much warming the planet will experience during this century.

While coal’s share of the world energy market will be on the wane by 2040, the report shows an upward trajectory for natural gas, thanks to new technology, such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” that allows companies to access previously inaccessible supplies. The report projects a 64 percent increase in natural gas consumption by 2040, with the vast majority of that coming from the industrial and electric power sectors.

As far as carbon emissions are concerned, the report estimates that global energy-related CO2 emissions will rise from 31.2 billion metric tons in 2010 to 36.4 billion metric tons in 2020, and 45.5 billion metric tons in 2040 — an increase of 46 percent over 30 years. During that period, the gap between emissions coming from developed nations vs. developing nations is expected to significantly widen. In 2010, developing country emissions exceeded the emissions of industrialized countries by 38 percent. In 2040, they are projected to be in the lead by about 127 percent.

In addition to potential greenhouse gas regulations at the national and international levels, the report cautions that the projections contain a number of other uncertainties, including the ramifications of the political unrest in the wake of the Arab Spring, which have temporarily raised oil prices, the anemic economic recoveries of many Western nations, and slowing economic growth in China and India.

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: www.unitedstatescarbon.com