By Kimberly Arsenault
Contributor, EDM Digest
The U. S. Department of Energy announced that for the second consecutive year, electric power plants have reduced carbon emissions by about 5 percent per year, the first time such a reduction has been recorded over the last 40 years. This decline adds to the decade-long reduction in the overall carbon footprint across the United States.
Part of the reduction is from more energy efficient technology including that related to appliances, buildings, and power plants. A shift from coal to natural gas by electric generating power plants has also been part of the reason carbon emissions fell, a product which became more widely available from the fracking boom over the last ten years.
While natural gas use certainly has benefits, i.e., it is cheaper, and when burned for electricity, carbon dioxide emissions are only about half of what coal produces, methane gas is released when drilling, a substance that is 34 times stronger over a 100 year span than carbon dioxide. Consequently, methane gas is a much stronger global warming gas as opposed to carbon dioxide, so the offset and its impact on climate change is not ideal.
Other factors influencing the reduction in carbon emissions include warmer winters that result in less heating. Cooling a home requires much less energy than what is necessary to heat a home, and recent winters have been milder and warmer. Improved efficiency at power plants, and the increased use of renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power, have also helped reduce carbon emissions.
Climate pollution resulting from the generation of electricity has been the single highest source of carbon emissions until 2016. Now the transportation sector, including cars, trucks, and airplanes, accounts for the highest level of carbon emissions in the country. Findings from the report indicate that gasoline usage has increased by 7.5 percent since 2014, a trend that is likely to continue.
Continued reductions in climate pollution may reverse direction as recent trends point to increasing economic growth and thus rising demands for electricity, and more gasoline usage as people drive more in the United States.