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US energy emissions down 11% in 2020: EIA

26 July 2021 Kevin Adler

With COVID-19 reducing mobility and shrinking the nation's economy, US CO2 emissions from energy consumption fell to the lowest level since 1983, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported 26 July.

The data, which confirm modeling from other organizations, indicate that 4.6 billion mt of CO2 was emitted from energy consumption in 2020, or an 11% decrease from 2019. This is the largest annual decrease on record, EIA said in a statement.

This won't last for the US or the world, however. EIA is projecting that US energy-related CO2 emissions will rise by 0.3 billion mt in 2021, or 7%.

Globally, the International Energy Agency said in April that it detected a 4.8% decline in CO2 emissions in 2021, but is forecasting an increase of 5.8% in 2021. That will leave worldwide carbon emissions in 2021 at 33 billion mt. On a global basis, the increase of 1.5 billion mt, or the largest in a single year since 2015, with IHS Markit energy experts saying it will be driven by rebounding economies around the world

US energy mix

Importantly, the report also shows how the mix of US energy use continues to shift across sources of emissions as well with natural gas taking over coal's dominant position.

US petroleum consumption accounted for about 2 billion mt of energy-related CO2 emissions, or about 45% of the US total, in 2020.

Natural gas consumption accounted for 1.7 billion mt of CO2, or about 36% of the total, which EIA reported is its largest share on record. This is not surprising as the share of natural gas in the power sector continued to climb, as it reached 40% of utility-scale power production. In 2020, about 38% of CO2 emissions from natural gas occurred in the electric power sector, and 32% were in the industrial sector, indicating its importance for industrial power and feedstocks.

In 2020, coal consumption accounted for 0.9 billion mt of CO2 emissions, or about 19% of total CO2 emissions. "[This is] both its lowest total amount and share in our annual data series that began in 1973," EIA reported. In 2020, about 90% of CO2 emissions from coal occurred in the electric power sector.

At the end of 2010, 316.8 GW of coal-fired capacity existed in the United States. By the end of 2019, nearly 79 GW of that capacity had been retired, or coal boilers had been replaced to run natural gas.

Sectoral emissions

Looking across economic sectors, EIA said that the transportation sector emitted 1.6 billion mt of CO2 in 2020, or about 36% of the nation's total energy-related CO2 emissions. This represented a reduction of 15% from 2019 as a result of the decrease in petroleum consumption for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The industrial sector emitted 1.3 billion mt of CO2 in 2020, with direct consumption of natural gas accounting for 41% of those emissions, followed by electric power generation (28%), petroleum (25%), and coal (7%).

The residential sector emitted 0.9 billion mt of CO2 in 2020, a 6% drop from 2019. "Energy consumption in the residential sector was down overall in 2020 despite more people staying home," EIA said. "In 2020, electric power generation accounted for 64% of residential CO2 emissions, and direct consumption of natural gas accounted for 29%."

The commercial sector emitted 0.7 billion mt of CO2 in 2020, or 16% of total US energy-related CO2 emissions. In 2020, 69% of commercial sector CO2 emissions came from electric power generation from all resources, and 24% was from direct consumption of natural gas.

Posted 26 July 2021 by Kevin Adler, Chief Editor


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