As required by Congress, the EPA recently released annual greenhouse gas data “detailing carbon pollution emissions and trends broken down by industrial sector, greenhouse gas, geographic region, and individual facility.”
Interestingly, in 2012, coal-fired electricity generation increased while natural gas generation decreased considerably. This is counter to all the talk about the shale gas revolution (“bridge,” if you’re optimistic), including a line right in the first paragraph of the EPA press release — “The data, required to be collected annually by Congress, highlight a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as more utilities switch to cleaner burning natural gas.”
Despite coal generation increasing, natural gas generation decreased so much that overall fossil fuel generation fell by 36.4 million MWh. Here’s a table with more details:
So, what made up for that electricity generation drop?
First and foremost, reiterating a recent statement by the International Energy Agency, it seems that energy efficiency and energy conservation did. However, the other main contributor to the cut in global warming pollution was clearly renewable energy generation, especially generation from wind energy. Wind power plants contributed a significant 17.7 million MWh of additional electricity generation in 2012.
If you are under the odd impression that more wind power doesn’t equal less global warming pollution, please use some common sense and also check out a recent study we reported on that shows how little backup power is actually needed for wind power, even at relatively high penetration levels. In other words, accept the fact that wind power is extremely effective at cutting global warming pollution.
As REVE notes: “What lesson can we draw from this data? While some of the emissions reductions noted by the EPA are fleeting, wind energy is a key contributor to the long-lasting strategy for reducing U.S. carbon emissions.”
If you’re wondering what’s up with the EPA’s statement that the switch to natural gas has resulted in a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, the statement is based on generation change over the course of two years (2011 and 2012), not just 2012. “The 2012 data show that in the two years since reporting began, emissions from power plants have decreased 10 percent. This is due to a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation and a slight decrease in electricity production.”
Spin natural gas however you want, but please stop ignoring the fact that increasing renewable energy generation has a very strong, lasting impact on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Also, let’s just hope that methane leaks from using natural gas aren’t considerably greater than projected (I can’t say I’m optimistic about that), and that, if natural gas really is notably greener, that natural gas rebounds and cuts coal generation considerably again… as we ramp up renewable energy faster and faster, since that is the only long-term solution in this sector anyway.