Natural gas’s growing share of electricity production has been the largest driver of declining U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, the climate advocacy group Carbon Brief reports. Carbon Brief points out that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined 14 percent since 2005, with natural gas as the single largest reason.
Electricity generation is the largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, Carbon Brief observes. Fundamental changes in electricity markets since 2005 have transformed the U.S. electricity sector from one of growing emissions to one of declining emissions.
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“Before 2005, U.S. carbon emissions were marching upwards year after year, with little sign of slowing down,” Carbon Brief noted. “After this point, they fell quickly, declining 14% from their peak by the end of 2016.”
“Increases in [natural] gas electricity generation is the largest driver, accounting for 33% of the total emissions reduction in 2016,” Carbon Brief reported. “Gas is far from zero-carbon, but reduces CO2 in the U.S. because it mostly displaces high-carbon coal.”
In its report, Carbon Brief linked to an article by Yale Climate Communications, a global warming activist organization, which pointed out that “carbon dioxide emissions from new gas power plants are as much as 66 percent lower than those of existing coal power plants.”
According to Yale Climate Communications, “About half of this [66-percent] reduction is due to differing carbon intensities of the fuels (natural gas emits 40 percent less carbon than coal per unit of heat). The other half is due to the higher generation efficiency of natural gas (new natural gas plants convert heat to power at upwards of 50 percent efficiency, while typical coal plants only operate at about 33 percent efficiency).”
According to Carbon Brief, natural gas has reduced 50% more emissions since 2005 than wind and solar power combined.
Carbon Brief identifies low natural gas prices as a key component in the growth of natural gas electricity generation. Low natural gas prices are one reason Carbon Brief projects U.S. emissions to continue declining under the Trump administration. Low natural gas prices will likely induce more power producers to switch from coal power to natural gas.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas’s share of U.S. electricity generation has risen from 21% to 34% during the past decade. At the same time, coal’s share has dropped from 48% to 30%. With natural gas prices so low, inflation-adjusted electricity prices have declined along with emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants.
Unless politics interfere with the ongoing conversion of coal-powered electricity to natural gas-fired electricity, expect carbon dioxide emissions and electricity prices to continue declining together.
[This article was first published at Forbes.com.]