Published on May 16th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


Did Energy Efficiency Drive 75% Of US CO2 Cuts In 2012?

May 16th, 2013 by  

This article originally appeared on RenewEconomy.
By Sophie Vorrath

Ever since the US saw its CO2 emissions hit a 20-year low last year, the widely held belief has been that natural gas played the dominant role by pushing coal out of the market. But, as Stephen Lacey reports over on GreentechEfficiency, researchers at CO2 Scoreboard have come to rather a different conclusion. They found that, on a nationwide level, more than 50 million megawatt-hours of coal simply dropped off the map without any assistance from natural gas – a result of the decline in electricity consumption. And in some areas, natural gas actually displaced more hydro and nuclear than coal, thus adding to emissions.

“Contrary to popular perception, 2012 data shows that the increased use of natural gas in the electric power sector is not the largest contributor of energy-related CO2 reductions in the US over the past year. Nearly 75 per cent of the CO2 savings are attributable to economy-wide demand reduction driven by energy efficiency, conservation and the mild winter of the first quarter of 2012,” write Shakeb Afsah and Kendyl Salcito in their analysis.

When combining all these factors together, CO2 Scorecard determined that increases in natural gas generation were responsible for just 26 percent of the total decline in CO2 emissions in 2012. “The policy lesson is obvious,” the authors conclude. “Real and lasting reductions in CO2 come from economy-wide policy effects, not from the current transient boom in the US natural gas market. Therefore, the best way to ensure continued economy-wide reductions in CO2 emissions is through a carbon tax.”


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  • Steeple

    Displace hydro and nuclear? That statement alone seems to discredit this work. Both of those have next to no variable costs to operate; no way nat gas could displace those. Any decline in hydro would be from causes such as lower water flow.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Guess you’re behind reading your newspapers, eh Steep?

      “The Kewaunee Power Station stopped generating power late Tuesday morning (May 7, 2013), becoming one of the first nuclear power plants in the country to cease operating since the late 1990s.Dominion Resources Inc. had been scheduled to stop producing power at about noon, but the cessation actually occurred shortly after 11 a.m., said Mark Kanz, a Dominion spokesman.

      “We’re in a cool-down mode right now,” Kanz said. That phase should last into the evening, he added.

      “We’re not here today because of a failure of technology, or of equipment, or of people,” said Daniel Stoddard, Dominion senior vice president of operations, during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

      Instead, he said, it boiled down to “simple economics” as a merchant power plant – one that operates in a competitive market instead of being funded by customers of a monopoly electric utility – that couldn’t compete.The reason it can’t compete: low power prices in the Midwest wholesale power market.

      Dominion tried to sell the plant and to negotiate a long-term deal with the two utilities, Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Wisconsin Power & Light Co.

      But the low price of natural gas in the wholesale electricity market meant that producing power at Kewaunee was too costly – either for the in-state utilities or for Dominion to try to sell the electricity directly into the market.”

      What they didn’t mention was that a couple of weeks earlier it was announced that the Crystal River reactor in Florida would be permanently shut. It needed some repairs and the way the wholesale price of electricity is going there was no way to bring it back on line and make it profitable.

      That’s two down so far this year.

      If you like I can give you a list of other existing, paid off nuclear reactors that are in danger of bankruptcy. Cheap natural gas and wind is doing them in.

      Some more solar on the grid and a bunch more are going to be on shaky ground. Solar will lower the merit order peak price that nuclear depends on to recoup its loss from selling low during off peak.

      With ten cent solar replacing expensive gas peakers a whole bunch of profit is going to get wrung out of the system for nuclear.

      That free market thing you like to study? Here’s the market in action. Low price providers are squeezing out high cost providers.

      Didn’t some guy named Allen or Adam, something like that talk about the market kicking butt when one wasn’t looking or something?

      • Steeple

        That’s fine but those are small potatoes compared to the amount of gas/coal displacement that went on in 2012.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You just don’t get it, do you Steep?

          • Steeple

            Hey Bob, enough of the snark. Return with an argument next time. Read this first since you don’t seem to be well informed here.


          • Bob_Wallace

            No snark in my comment Steep. A simple observation.

            What’s the point of your link? It states that an increase in gas prices may cause a short term increase in coal burning, but not a long term increase because of the scheduled coal plant closings. And a quick scan ignores the addition of renewables to the grid.

            Now let’s go back to your comment that started all this –

            “Displace hydro and nuclear? That statement alone seems to discredit this work.”

            As I showed you, that was a flawed claim. No amount of tap-dancing off to a different topic changes that fact.

            Increases in NG prices won’t bring those nuclear reactors back on line either. What they will do is make wind and solar even more attractive.

          • Steeple

            Bob, so now you want to debate instead of insult. Sorry, I dont have time for that approach. The link clearly shows how much coal was displaced in 2012 which was the point of the study. You pointed out one nuke plant going down. There are 17,000 power plants in the US. I have a better sense of who gets it here.

          • Bob_Wallace

            So you want to save time and just trade insults?

            OK, not my idea of a good time but if that’s how you roll….

            Personally I like facts.

            Facts like there are 104 currently operating nuclear reactors in the US. Minus the one shut down week before last. About one-fourth of them are in danger of financial failure. Another reactor shut down day before yesterday when cracks were found in the reactor. It’s not known if repairs will be too expensive to bring it back on line.

            Facts like there are about 600 coal plants. 100 are scheduled to close and another 100 are likely to soon follow.

            Facts like there about 6,600 operational power plants in the United States with a nameplate generation capacity of at least one mega watt.

        • arne-nl

          C’mon Steeple, the article mentioned gas displacing nuclear was only a part of the picture. In no way is Bob obliged to prove that it explains 100% of the gas/coal displacements. You’re moving goalposts.

          You called gas displacing nuclear bunk since you appear to be fixated on the idea the nuclear is ‘too cheap to meter’. And Bob clearly showed you were wrong about that.

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