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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 Shift

Visualized: The Evolution of Energy Employment (2022–2030P)

This graphic shows the projected evolution of global energy employment between 2022 and 2030 using data by the International Energy Agency.

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the preview image for a waterfall chart showing the projected evolution of global energy employment between 2022 and 2030.

The Evolution of Energy Employment (2022–2030P)

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), just over half of the 67 million people employed in the global energy industry in 2022 worked in the clean energy sector: 35 million vs. 32 million in fossil fuels. And with the clean energy transition picking up pace, that gap is set to widen. 

In this graphic created in partnership with the National Public Utilities Council, we explore how global energy employment could change by 2030 in a current policy scenario, using projections from the IEA.

The Rise in Clean Energy Employment

The IEA’s current policy scenario is a conservative projection for progress in line with the present trajectory of our energy system. It doesn’t assume that nations will reach their announced goals or that net zero will be achieved by 2050. 

Even within this conservative scenario, the global energy sector is projected to have a net gain of 5.7 million jobs by 2030. Except for the 300,000 jobs added in the oil and gas supply industry, these jobs are all in clean energy.

In a more ambitious scenario, aligned with achieving net zero by 2050, the net gain in jobs is projected to nearly triple to 17 million.

Changes in global energy employment 2022–2030P, millions of jobsCurrent policies scenarioNet-zero emissions 2050 scenario
Coal supply-1.4-2.8
Internal combustion engine vehicles-1.1-6.2
Unabated fossil fuel electricity-0.2-1.2
Critical minerals+0.2+0.7
Oil and gas supply+0.3-2.5
Low-emissions fuels+0.4+3.2
End-use efficiency+1.2+3.2
Energy grids and storage+1.4+3.8
Low-emission electricity+1.7+11
Electric vehicles and batteries+3.2+7.7
Net job creation+5.7+16.9

In both scenarios, the global energy industry is poised to create millions of new jobs in the coming years, with the job gains in the clean energy sector significantly outweighing the job losses in the fossil fuel industry.

A People-Centred Transition

With projected growth of this magnitude, the IEA emphasizes that policymakers and industry must support employee transitions from fossil fuels and address skill gaps in emerging industries through education and training.

According to the World Energy Employment report, continued efforts in these areas are crucial to prevent labor shortages and avoid delays in the clean energy transition.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

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2024 U.S. Clean Electricity Outlook

In this graphic, we explore the projected generation capacity of different clean electricity technologies in the U.S. for 2023 and 2024.

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preview image for a bar chart visualizing the projected electricity generation capacity for clean electricity technologies in the United States for 2023 and 2024.

2024 U.S. Clean Electricity Outlook

As the world urgently seeks sustainable energy solutions, the U.S. has the opportunity to lead the charge in the shift toward clean electricity.

But what kind of progress can the country expect in the upcoming year? 

To find out, we partnered with the National Public Utilities Council to visualize the projected 2024 electricity generation capacity of clean energy technologies in the U.S., using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). 

The Rise of Battery Storage and Solar Power

Looking ahead to 2024, U.S. generation capacity projections unveil a promising trajectory for battery storage and solar power. Battery storage is projected to grow by 82% compared to 2023 estimates, while solar is projected to grow by 40%.

Wind power is also growing, albeit at a slower rate (5%) due to higher costs and permitting challenges, especially for offshore projects. 

Electricity Generation Capacity Projections20232024Change
Battery Storage17 GW31 GW+82%
Solar93 GW130 GW+40%
Wind149 GW156 GW+5%
Nuclear96 GW97 GW+1%
Geothermal3 GW3 GW0%
Hydro80 GW80 GW0%

As illustrated in the table above, the EIA projects a modest year for the rest of the major clean electricity sources in the nation, with nuclear expected to eke out a lackluster 1% growth, while hydro and geothermal remain unchanged. 

Overall, these projections underscore a diversification of the U.S. energy portfolio, with a pronounced emphasis on renewables and energy storage. The growth in battery storage capacity, specifically, underscores efforts to overcome the intermittency challenges of renewables, ultimately ensuring a reliable and emission-free power supply in the country.

The Broader U.S. Power Sector in 2024

Beyond capacity projections, let’s also take a look at some projected trends related to the broader U.S. power sector in 2024. 

  • U.S. daily electricity generation is projected to grow by 3% between 2023 and 2024, reflecting an increasing demand for power in the country. 
  • Renewables are set to claim an even larger slice of the U.S. electricity mix in 2024, rising from 22% in 2023 to 24%
  • Electricity production from coal is projected to decline by 9% as the country continues its move away from this emission-intensive energy source. 
  • Despite the country’s projected growth in clean electricity capacity, total U.S. energy-related emissions are projected to drop by 0.1% in 2024. 

All in all, the 2024 landscape of the U.S. power sector signifies progress with increased renewables and heightened electricity generation. However, the marginal dip in emissions emphasizes the need to ramp-up country-wide efforts to meet the goal of a net-zero future.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

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