U.S. Energy-Related Emissions, 2010

The U.S. Energy Information Agency has released its assessment of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States for 2010. Among the findings of this rather disturbing snapshot of U.S. emissions:

  1. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States saw their largest absolute and percentage increase (213 million metric tons) since 1988, translating into a 3.9% increase;
  2. The factors leading to this substantial increase included increases in population, output per capita, energy intensity (energy consumed per unit of economic activity) and carbon intensity of energy (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy);
    1. While the increase in carbon intensity was not dramatic (0.1%), it contrasts markedly with a more than 12% decline in 2009. One very important factor was a 6% increase in coal use in 2010; coal accounted for 56% of the increase in power generation in the electric sector in 2010;
    2. Despite frequent speculation that coal use may fall into disfavor in the face of regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, coal’s overall share in total energy production in the U.S. actually increased slightly in 2010, to 45.7%, up from 46.1% in 2009;
    3. While non-carbon based energy sources saw a 1.2% increase in production, because total generation increased by 4.2%, it meant that the share of non-carbon generation fell in 2010. The primary reason for the drop was a substantial decline in hydropower use, which offset much of the increase in wind, nuclear and solar power;

The EIA cautions that one should not read any trend into the 2010 data. However, the continued unwavering commitment of our society to coal is certainly disconcerting, especially in conjunction with the setback to the fortunes of carbon capture and sequestration recently with AEP’s announcement that it was suspending its high-profile demonstration project. The report also contains some good charts for Power Point presentations, including the current composition of our energy generation mix and trends in energy intensity.

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