2017 Saw Small Decrease in Energy Related CO2 Emissions

According to recently-released data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), energy-related CO2 emissions decreased 0.9% in 2017 compared to 2016 levels.  Real gross domestic product increased 2.3% over the same period.

The increasing use of natural gas in fossil-fuel fired generation has of course contributed to these numbers.  Natural gas CO2 emissions surpassed those of coal for the first time ever in 2015 (and continued in 2016).  2017 did have a 1.5% decrease in natural gas CO2 emissions, although the natural gas share of electric generation has still generally been growing.

Increases in non-carbon generation, particularly wind and solar, also have contributed to the decline in carbon intensity of electricity generation.  Nuclear power is still the dominant source of non-carbon generation, although has been declining since 2001.  (Note, the co-owners of Vogtle Units 3 & 4 recently agreed to continue with the construction of the only new nuclear units currently under construction in the U.S.)

EIA also reported on emissions levels in the four-end use sectors: transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial.  Only the transportation sector had increased CO2 emissions in 2017, although transportation emissions are not back to pre-recession levels despite increasing every year since 2012.  Within the transportation sector, increased CO2 emissions were due to jet and diesel fuel—motor gasoline emissions declined.

On the residential side, 2017 CO2 emissions were the lowest they have been since 1987.  EIA reports that residential sector emissions levels are strongly influenced by weather.

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