Report: Natural Gas Played Critical Role in Reducing U.S. Power Sector Emissions

The shift to abundant, affordable natural gas over the past 15 years has played a critical role in helping to reduce U.S. power sector CO2 emissions more quickly than projected, according to a new report from Berkeley Labs, which found that natural gas contributed to 48 percent of that decline.

“Natural gas generation grew from 761 billion kWh in 2005 to 1,617 billion kWh in 2020. Assuming this growth only displaced coal and considering the relative emissions rates of gas and coal, we estimate that increased natural gas supply reduced 2020 CO2 emissions by 470 MMT or 48 percent of the total emissions reduction since 2005.” (emphasis added)

The study, prepared for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), finds that emissions in the power sector fell dramatically from 2005 to 2020, despite previous forecasts that there would be a steady rise:

“Fifteen years ago, many business-as-usual projections anticipated that annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power supply in the United States would reach 3,000 million metric tons (MMT) in 2020. In fact, direct power-sector CO2 emissions in 2020 were 1,450 MMT—roughly 50% below the earlier projections. By this metric, in only 15 years the country’s power sector has gone halfway to zero emissions. Other metrics also evolved differently than projected: total consumer electricity costs (i.e., bills) were 18 percent lower; costs to human health and the climate were 92 percent and 52 percent lower, respectively; and the number of jobs in electricity generation was 29 percent higher.” (emphasis added)

This unexpected progress came about from a variety of “economic, technical, and policy factors,” according to the report, including the increased use of natural gas for power generation:

Coal-to-gas fuel switching played a crucial role, with natural gas generation growing rapidly, driven by the shale gas revolution and the difference between projected and actual fuel prices.” (emphasis added)

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