Record drop in US energy-related emissions

11 May 2010

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the USA dropped by 7% in 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This represents the largest fall since the EIA records began in 1949.


According to EIA figures, annual totals of energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 405 million tonnes during 2009 to 5405 million tonnes per year. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions account for about 98% of the USA's CO2 emissions with most coming from burning fossil fuels and smaller quantities from non-fuel use of fossil fuels, as well as from electricity generation using geothermal energy and non-biomass waste. Other sources of CO2 emissions include industrial processes, such as cement and limestone production.


US energy-related emissions (EIA)

Image: EIA


"While emissions have declined in three out of the last four years, 2009 was exceptional," the EIA said. The cause of the large drop in emissions in 2009, according to the organization, was the downturn in the economy that caused per capita gross domestic product (GDP) to fall by 3.3%, resulting in a total GDP decline of 2.4%. Energy intensity and the carbon intensity of the energy supply also both fell by more than 2%. These three factors, the EIA said, combined in roughly equal proportions to cause emissions to fall by 7%.


Total emissions of energy-related CO2 fell across all end-use sectors in 2009, with the drop especially pronounced in the industrial sector. The EIA warns that, as the US economy recovers, the structure of that recovery will be important to the future emissions profile of the country. It suggests that, if energy-intensive industries lead the economic recovery, emissions would increase faster than if service industries or light manufacturing play the leading role. If coal, which was more heavily impacted by the recent economic downturn than other energy sources, rebounds disproportionately then the carbon intensity of the energy supply could rise above the 2009 level. However, the EIA says, longer-term trends continue to suggest decline in both the amount of energy used per unit of economic output and the carbon intensity of the USA's energy supply, which both work to restrain emissions.


While no new nuclear capacity has been built in the USA in recent years, the EIA says that higher utilization of existing capacity and completion of a stalled project has meant increases in nuclear generation as compared with 2000. It noted, "While nuclear generation increases appear to have levelled-off in 2007, nuclear generation has nonetheless grown by 45,000 million kWh between 2000 and 2009." This additional nuclear capacity has avoided emissions of some 26 million tonnes since 2000, according to the EIA.


According to the EIA, forecast continued economic growth combined with increased use of coal in the electric power sector contributes to expected increases in CO2 emissions of 2.1% and 1.1% in 2010 and 2011, respectively. However, even with increases in 2010 and 2011, projected CO2 emissions in 2011 are lower than annual emissions from 1999 through 2008.


In 2009, nuclear energy accounted for 69.3% of US emission-free electricity generation, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. The country's 104 operating nuclear power plants generated a total of 799 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2009, down slightly from the 806 TWh produced in 2008.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News