Greater Carbon Intensity of the U.S. Electricity Supply in 2010

U.S. Energy Information Administration
August 18, 2011

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2010
US Energy Information Administration

The U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) issued an analysis this week reporting that greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. increased by about 4 percent in 2010, following the 7 percent decline in 2009. While most of the increase is attributable to the improving economy during 2010 as compared to the reduced economic activity during 2009, some of the increase is due to declining hydropower production and greater reliance on fossil fuel-fired electric generation (coal and natural gas) to meet the peaks during the warmer-than-normal summer of 2010 (the fourth warmest season on record, going back to 1895). Total energy consumption rose by 3.8 percent in 2010 across all end-use sectors. Because GDP increased by 3.0 percent, it meant that the energy intensity of the economy increased by 0.7 percent. After an unprecedented drop of 12 percent in 2009, coal consumption rose by almost 6 percent in 2010; the overall share of coal in total generation increased slightly from 45.7 percent in 2009 to 46.1 percent in 2010. The natural gas share increased as well, from 22.1 percent to 22.6 percent. Meanwhile, the share of non-carbon generation fell from 30 percent to 29 percent, due primarily to poor hydro conditions during 2010. According to the EIAreport, energy-related CO2 emissions still remain about 6 percent below the 2005 level, at 358 million metric tons. While the EIA report states that conclusions cannot really be drawn from one year of data – “[j]ust as 2009 was an atypical year in terms of the magnitude of the emissions decline, 2010 likely does not signal a new trend in emissions growth” – the growth in the energy intensity of the economy is troubling, and runs counter to the trends we should be seeing as a result of increased investment in energy efficiency in recent years, which should over time be expected to reduce energy intensity.