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Visualizing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

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The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council

Infographic: U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

Visualizing U.S. Emissions by Sector

Decarbonization efforts in the U.S. are ramping up, and in 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were lower than at any point during the previous 30 years.

However there’s still work to be done before various organizations, states, and nationwide targets are met. And when looking at GHG emissions by sector, the data suggests that some groups have more work cut out for them than others.

This graphic from the National Public Utilities Council provides the key data and trends on the total emissions by U.S. sector since 1990.

The Highest Emitting Sectors

Collectively, the U.S. emitted 5,981 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2020, which rose 6.1% in 2021.

Here’s how the various sectors in the U.S. compare.

Sector2020 GHG emissions, MMT CO2ePercentage of Total
Transportation1,627.627%
Electricity generation1,482.625%
Industry1,426.224%
Agriculture635.111%
Commercial425.37%
Residential362.06%
U.S. territories23.0<1%

The transportation sector ranks highest by emissions and has been notably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still affecting travel and supply chains. This has led to whipsawing figures during the last two years.

For instance, in 2020, the transportation sector’s emissions fell 15%, the steepest fall of any sector. But the largest increase in emissions in 2021 also came from transportation, which is largely credited to the economic and tourism recovery last year.

Following transportation, electricity generation accounted for a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions in 2020, with fossil fuel combustion making up nearly 99% of the sector’s emissions. The other 1% includes waste incineration and other power generation technologies like renewables and nuclear power, which produce emissions during the initial stages of raw material extraction and construction.

Decarbonizing the Power Sector

The Biden Administration has set a goal to make the U.S. power grid run on 100% clean energy by 2035—a key factor in achieving the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Industrial factories, commercial buildings, and homes all consume electricity to power their machinery and appliances. Therefore, the power sector can help reduce their carbon footprint by supplying more clean electricity, although this largely depends on the availability of infrastructure for transmission.

Here’s how sectors would look if their respective electricity end-use is taken into account

SectorEmissions by Sector % of Total
Agriculture11%
Transportation27%
Industry30%
Residential & Commercial30%

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to independent rounding

With these adjustments, the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors experience a notable jump, and lead ahead of other categories

Today, the bulk of electricity generation, 60%, comes from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, with nuclear, renewables, and other sources making up 40% of the total.

Energy Source2020 Electric generation, billion kWhShare of total
Natural Gas1,57538.3%
Coal89921.8%
Nuclear77818.9%
Wind3809.2%
Hydropower2606.3%

However, progress and notable strides have been made towards sustainable energy. In 2021, renewables accounted for one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation, roughly doubling their share since 2010.

Coal’s share as a source of electric power has dropped dramatically in recent years. And partially as a result, electricity generation has seen its portion of emissions successfully decrease by 21% , with overall emissions falling from 1,880 million metric tons of CO2 to 1,482 million metric tons.

How Utilities Can Lead the Way

Should these trends persist, the electricity generation sector has a chance to play a pivotal role in the broader decarbonization initiative. And with the bulk of electricity generation in the U.S. coming from investor-owned utilities (IOUs), this is a unique opportunity for IOUs to lead the transition toward cleaner energy.

The National Public Utilities Council is a collaborative body of industry experts coming together to solve decarbonization challenges in the power sector and the proud sponsor of the Decarbonization Channel.

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Energy

Charted: Home Heating Systems in the U.S.

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Charted: Home Heating Systems in the U.S.

This was originally published on April 25, 2022, on Elements.

Fossil fuel combustion for the heating of commercial and residential buildings accounts for roughly 13% of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Decarbonizing the U.S. economy requires a switch from fossil fuel-combusting heating solutions to renewable energy sources that generate electricity.

Currently, the majority of new homes in the U.S. still combust natural gas for heating through forced-air furnaces or boilers. Just like cars need to be electric, homes will need to switch to electricity-powered heating systems that use renewable energy sources.

The graphic above uses census data to break down the different heating systems and fuels that are warming the 911,000 single-family homes built in the U.S. in 2020.

Types of Home Heating Systems

Most American homes use one of the following three heating systems:

  • Forced-air Furnaces: These typically have a burner in a furnace that is fueled by natural gas. A blower forces cold air through a heat exchanger which warms it up before it flows through ducts that heat the home with air as the medium.
  • Heat Pumps: The most common type of heat pumps are air-source heat pumps, which collect hot air from outside the home and concentrate it before pumping it through ducts that heat the air inside. They are usually powered by electricity. During warmer months, heat pumps can reverse themselves to cool the home, transferring hot air from the inside to the outdoors.
  • Hot Water/Steam: These systems typically work by boiling water (or generating steam) to the appropriate temperature using gas and sending it through a home’s pipes to radiators that heat the air.

How Home Heating Fuels Have Changed

U.S. home heating has been going through a transition over the last two decades. Electricity has steadily been replacing gas and biofuel/wood-powered home heating systems for new homes, and powers almost half of the heating systems in single-family homes built in 2020.

Here’s how the share of heat sources for new houses changed between 2000 and 2020:

Fuel2000 % of Heating for New Homes2020 % of Heating for New Homes
Gas70%55%
Electricity27%45%
Other4%1%

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

While electricity’s share has grown since 2000, most American homes are still heated with gas largely because of the fossil fuel’s affordability.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), households relying on gas for space heating are expected to spend an average of $746 over the winter months, compared to $1,268 for electricity, and $1,734 for heating oil.

Heating in Newly-Built Houses Today

Of the 911,000 new single-family homes, 538,000 houses installed forced-air furnaces. Of these, 83% or nearly 450,000 homes used gas as the primary heating source, with 16% opting for electrified furnaces. By contrast, 88% of the 353,000 homes that installed heat pumps relied on electricity.

Here’s how the heating systems and fuels break down for single-family homes built in 2020:

System UsedHouses Built in 2020% Powered by Gas% Powered by Electricity% Powered by Other
Forced-Air Furnace538,00083%16%<0.5%
Heat Pump353,00012%88%0%
Hot Water/Steam8,00089%5%7%
Other/None12,00012%41%47%

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Fewer than 1% of new single-family homes used hot water or steam systems, and the majority of those that did relied on gas as the primary fuel. Around 1.3% of new homes used other systems like electric baseboard heaters, smaller space heaters, panel heaters, or radiators.

While gas remains the dominant heating source today, efforts to decarbonize the U.S. economy could further prompt a shift towards electricity-based heating systems, with electric heat pumps likely taking up a larger piece of the pie.

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Decarbonization

How Far Are We From Phasing Out Coal?

More carbon in the atmosphere is creating a hotter world—and gradually fuelling both climate change and instances of wildfires.

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How Far Are We from Phasing Out Coal?

This was originally published on April 28, 2022, on Elements.

At the COP26 conference last year, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.

Despite this, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally, showing that eliminating coal from the energy mix will not be a simple task.

This infographic shows the aggressive phase-out of coal power that would be required in order to reach net zero goals by 2050, based on an analysis by Ember that uses data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Low-Cost Comes at a High Environmental Cost

Coal-powered electricity generation rose by 9.0% in 2021 to 10,042 Terawatt-hours (TWh), marking the biggest percentage rise since 1985.

The main reason is cost. Coal is the world’s most affordable energy fuel. Unfortunately, low-cost energy comes at a high cost for the environment, with coal being the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.

China has the highest coal consumption, making up 54% of the world’s coal electricity generation. The country’s consumption jumped 12% between 2010 and 2020, despite coal making up a lower percentage of the country’s energy mix in relative terms.

Top Consumers2020 Consumption (Exajoules) Share of global consumption
China 🇨🇳82.354.3%
India 🇮🇳17.511.6%
United States 🇺🇸9.26.1%
Japan 🇯🇵4.63.0%
South Africa 🇿🇦3.52.3%
Russia 🇷🇺3.32.2%
Indonesia 🇮🇩3.32.2%
South Korea 🇰🇷3.02.0%
Vietnam 🇻🇳2.11.4%
Germany 🇩🇪1.81.2%

Together, China and India account for 66% of global coal consumption and emit about 35% of the world’s greenhouse gasses (GHG). If you add the United States to the mix, this goes up to 72% of coal consumption and 49% of GHGs.

How Urgent is to Phase Out Coal?

According to the United Nations, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level that scientists say could bring more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Apart from being the largest source of CO2 emissions, coal combustion is also a major threat to public health because of the fine particulate matter released into the air.

As just one example of this impact, a recent study from Harvard University estimates air pollution from fossil fuel combustion is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths globally.

The Move to Renewables

Coal-powered electricity generation must fall by 13% every year until 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees.

To reach the mark, countries would need to speed up the shift from their current carbon-intensive pathways to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

How fast the transition away from coal will be achieved depends on a complicated balance between carbon emissions cuts and maintaining economic growth, the latter of which is still largely dependent on coal power.

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