Carbon Emissions From U.S. Power Sector Decreased Slightly in 2022, Nineteenth Annual Benchmarking Report Finds
November 15, 2023 /3BL/ - Due to a drop in coal generation, the U.S. power sector saw a marginal reduction of less than 1% in carbon emissions in 2022, according to the latest analysis of air emissions for the country's top 100 power producers. The report shows that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2022 are down 34% below their peak levels in 2007.
Benchmarking Air Emissions of the 100 Largest Electric Power Producers in the United States, now in its 19th edition, examines and compares the air pollutant emissions based on 2021 power generation, plant ownership, and emissions data. These 100 producers own more than 3,800 power plants and account for approximately 80% of the sector’s electric generation and reported air emissions.
With major technological improvements across the electric power sector and new investment spurred by the historic Inflation Reduction Act—including $350 billion for clean energy projects—the time is ripe for utilities to achieve a cleaner, more efficient, and equitable energy future.
"Despite the increased emissions in the previous year, the power sector continues to make progress and the Inflation Reduction Act enables even greater progress to achieve larger emissions reductions across the sector and meet our 2030 goals," said Dan Bakal, senior program director of climate and energy at Ceres. "While it is important to acknowledge these unprecedented incentives, the power sector must actively accelerate clean energy investments to achieve net zero targets. Although many major power producers have made climate commitments and implemented strategies to reduce carbon emissions, the urgency of rapid decarbonization necessitates even greater ambition."
After a post-pandemic rebound in emissions in 2021, last year the U.S. electric system resumed its long-term trend of decreasing emissions because of growth in zero-emitting generation and coal’s decline. However, natural gas was responsible for more generation in 2022 than any preceding year and fossil sources continue to be responsible for nearly 60% of electricity generation. Overall, energy production from zero-carbon power sources held steady at 40%.
The report shows that the power sector is not on track to cut carbon emissions enough to achieve national and international climate goals.
The report examines data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding four power plant pollutants: sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), mercury, and CO2. For the electric sector overall, in 2022, power plant SO2 and NOx emissions were 94% and 87% lower, respectively, than in 1990 when Congress passed major amendments to the Clean Air Act.
“Because of commonsense standards first put in place decades ago, the power sector has made historic progress in cleaning up the pollution that causes soot, smog and acid rain,” said Amanda Levin, the director of policy analysis at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Now we need similar standards for carbon dioxide, so that the electric power industry can stop fueling the climate crisis.”
“The Inflation Reduction Act – arguably the most consequential energy legislation in U.S. history – unleashed billions of dollars in clean energy investments, and now, the electric industry must move rapidly and decisively to translate that support into critical climate impact,” said Katie Ott, vice president, Sustainability and Climate Strategy, Constellation, the nation’s largest producer of carbon-free energy. “At Constellation, we’re working to extend the life of our reliable zero-emissions nuclear plants, increase the capacity of our clean energy fleet and play a leading role in jumpstarting the clean hydrogen economy while offering solutions to help our customers reduce emissions and meet environmental goals.”
- Despite the changes between 2021 and 2022, the current generation mix still represents a significant shift from a decade ago. In 2012, coal accounted for 37% of power production, while natural gas generated only 30%. In 2022, coal accounted for 19%, while natural gas has risen to 39%.
- Ninety of the top 100 power producers generated power from zero-carbon resources in 2021, which accounted for more than 85% of the national total generated from resources including nuclear, hydro, and renewables.
- In 2022, power plant SO2 and NOx emissions were 8% and 3% lower, respectively, than they were in 2021.
- Mercury air emissions from power plants continue to decrease—93% since 2000. The first-ever federal limits on mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants went into effect in 2015.
The benchmarking analysis is a collaborative effort between Ceres, Constellation Energy and NRDC. It is authored by ERM.
This work is part of Ceres’ commitment to decarbonizing the six highest-emitting sectors of the U.S. economy—including the electric power sector—through its Ambition 2030 initiative.
Ceres is a nonprofit organization working with the most influential capital market leaders to solve the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Through our powerful networks and global collaborations of investors, companies and nonprofits, we drive action and inspire equitable market-based and policy solutions throughout the economy to build a just and sustainable future. For more information, visit www.ceres.org and follow @CeresNews.
A Fortune 200 company headquartered in Baltimore, Constellation Energy Corporation (Nasdaq: CEG) is the nation’s largest producer of clean, carbon-free energy and a leading supplier of energy products and services to businesses, homes, community aggregations and public sector customers across the continental United States, including three fourths of Fortune 100 companies. With annual output that is nearly 90% carbon-free, our hydro, wind and solar facilities paired with the nation’s largest nuclear fleet have the generating capacity to power the equivalent of 16 million homes, providing about 10% of the nation’s clean energy. We are further accelerating the nation’s transition to a carbon-free future by helping our customers reach their sustainability goals, setting our own ambitious goal of achieving 100% carbon-free generation by 2040, and by investing in promising emerging technologies to eliminate carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy. Follow Constellation on LinkedIn and Twitter.
ERM is the business of sustainability. As the largest global pure-play sustainability consultancy, ERM partners with the world’s leading organizations, creating innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and unlocking commercial opportunities that meet the needs of today while preserving opportunities for future generations. ERM’s diverse team of 7,000+ world-class experts in over 170 offices across 39 countries supports clients across the breadth of their organizations to operationalize sustainability. Through ERM’s deep technical expertise, clients are well-positioned to address their environmental, health, safety, risk, and social issues. ERM calls this capability its “boots to boardroom” approach - a comprehensive service model that allows ERM to develop strategic and technical solutions that advance objectives on the ground or at the executive level.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing, and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
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