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October 18, 2016
Energy CO2 emissions hit 25-year low

Thanks to a combination of milder temperatures, a steep decrease in the combustion of coal, a slight decrease in the combustion of natural gas, and a strong rise in use of renewable resources, the first 6 months of 2015 had the lowest level of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from United States energy sectors than in any identical period since 1991. According to the latest data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions totaled 2,530 million metric tons from January to June 2016. This 25-year low follows an increase in energy-related CO2 emissions that occurred during the first 6 months of 2014 and a 2.8 percent decline in the first 6 months of 2015 when compared to the same periods in each of the prior years.

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Also, in its Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook, the EIA projects that for all of 2016, CO2 emissions will decline by 1.4 percent compared to 2015 and then increase by 0.6 percent in 2017.

Leading factors

The EIA explains the CO2 emissions data for the first 6 months of 2016 as follows:

Mild weather. The United States had the fewest heating degree days (an indicator of heating demand) since at least 1949, the earliest year for which the EIA has monthly data for all 50 states. Warmer weather during winter months reduces demand for heating fuels such as natural gas, distillate heating oil, and electricity. Overall, total primary energy consumption was 2 percent lower compared with the first 6 months of 2015. The decrease was most notable in the residential and electric power sectors, where primary energy consumption decreased 9 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Changing fossil fuel consumption mix. Coal and natural gas consumption each decreased compared to the first 6 months of 2015. However, the decrease was greater for coal, which generates more carbon emissions when burned than natural gas. Coal consumption fell 18 percent while natural gas consumption fell 1 percent. These declines more than offset a 1 percent increase in total petroleum consumption, which rose during that period as a result of low gasoline prices.

Increasing renewable energy consumption. Consumption of renewable fuels that do not produce CO2 increased 9 percent during the first 6 months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015. Wind energy, which saw the largest electricity generating capacity additions of any fuel in 2015, accounted for nearly half the increase. Hydroelectric power, which has increased with the easing of drought conditions on the West Coast, accounted for 35 percent of the increase in consumption of renewable energy. Solar energy accounted for 13 percent of the increase and is expected to see the largest capacity additions of any fuel in 2016.

More on fuel

The EIA also reports:

  • Natural gas marketed production fell from 79.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in September 2015 to 76.5 Bcf/d in July 2016. The EIA expects marketed natural gas production to average 77.5 Bcf/d in 2016, a decrease of 1.6 percent from the 2015 level, which would be the first annual decline since 2005. The EIA forecasts production increases by 3.7 Bcf/d in 2017.
  • The share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas is expected to average 35 percent this year, and the share from coal is expected to average 30 percent. Last year, both fuels supplied about 33 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.
  • Coal exports in July 2016 totaled 3.3 million short tons (MMst), which was 40 percent lower than in June and the lowest amount of coal exported in any month since February 2007. Exports for the first 7 months of 2016 were 32 percent lower than in the same period in 2015. The EIA forecasts U.S. coal exports will decline by 26 percent in 2016 to 55 MMst, the lowest level since 2006. Exports are expected to decline by an additional 5 percent in 2017.

EIA information on energy impacts on the environment is available here.

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