After Two Consecutive Years of Decline, U.S. CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels Increased Rapidly in 2010

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on 29 March 2011 that U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use increased sharply in 2010, after declining two consecutive years from peak emission levels in 2007. Partly attributable to the economic recovery -- and record high summer cooling demand, the increase in 2010 still left emissions at their second lowest annual level since 1998.

According to Monthly Energy Review: March 2011 (released 29 March 2011), U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use reached their highest levels on record in 2007 at 6,022 Million Metric Tons (MMT) of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). With the economy in a downturn during the following two years, emissions by 2009 had declined to 5,426 MMT CO2, the lowest level since 1995 (i.e. the lowest in 14 years).  Partly because the economy has picked up, emissions in 2010 jumped up to 5,627 MMT CO2

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Use, 1973-2010
In Million Metric Tons (MMT) of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

 U.S. CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, 1973-2010
Source (above): Monthly Energy Review: March 2011.  Energy Information Administration, 29 March 2011.

 

Below: U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Use, 1973-2010, by Major Fuel Source
In Million Metric Tons (MMT) of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

U.S. CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, by Fuel, 1973-2010
Source (above): Monthly Energy Review: March 2011.  Energy Information Administration, 29 March 2011.

Of the 201 MMT CO2 increase from 2009 to 2010, more than half (105 MMT) came from fossil fuel burning in electric power plants, dominated by coal. Part of the increase in electricity supply satisfied increased demand in the commercial and industrial sectors reflecting improvements in the economy.  But the largest increase of emissions from electric power plants (56 MMT CO2) resulted from fuel burned to satisfy a jump in electricity demand in the residential sector. 

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Fossil Fuel Use, 1973-2010, by End-Use Sector
In Million Metric Tons (MMT) of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

U.S. CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels, By Sector, 1973-2010
Source (above): Monthly Energy Review: March 2011.  Energy Information Administration, 29 March 2011.

Emissions Increase in 2010 driven Partly be Record High Cooling Demand and Record Summer Temperatures in Populated Areas

The main reason for the sudden increase in residential electricity demand is provided in the EIA's Electric Power Monthly: March 2011 Edition"Cooling degree days for 2010 were at an all-time high and were 18.3% higher than they were in 2009."  See U. S. Summer Cumulative Cooling Degree Days - 2010 for a comparison of total cooling-degree days in 2010 relative to 2009, 2008 and the 5-year average.

Cooling degree days are a measure of the need for cooling and are increasing over the long term, driven in part by the warming resulting from the relentless increase of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.  According to Trends in Heating and Cooling Degree Days: Implications for Energy Demand, a brief analysis released by the EIA with Annual Energy Outlook 2008, EIA (2008), over the 15-year period from 1993 through 2007, all but three summers had more cooling-degree days than the 30-year average summer.  On average, the summers over the 15-year period were 5 percent warmer than the 30-year average -- with five of the 15 summers more than 10 percent warmer than the 30-year average.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reported that the Summer of 2010 was the fourth warmest on record in the contiguous U.S., reflecting a long-term trend of increasing temperatures.  Ten populous eastern states experienced record high temperatures during the summer of 2010, as did several major cities in the region such as New York City. This drove the Residential Energy Demand Temperature (REDTI) index to record levels (see figure below).  The summer REDTI has been increasing sharply since 1970.

Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index, Summer (June-Aug), 1895-2010

The trend of increasing cooling demand very likely continue with rising temperatures and humidities.  The report, Effects of Climate Change on Energy Production and Use in the United States [PDF], produced by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program in February 2008, says:

"...[C]limate warming is expected to significantly increase the energy demand in all regions for space cooling, which is provided almost entirely by electricity. The effect in most studies is nonlinear with respect to temperature and humidity, such that the percentage impact increases more than proportionately with increases in temperature."

Without considering rising temperatures and humidities (i.e. assuming past average conditions are sustained), the EIA anticipates a slow long-term increase in U.S. emissions through 2035 without policies to counter the trend.  According to Annual Energy Outlook 2011 Early Release Overview... "energy-related CO2 emissions do not return to 2005 levels (5,980 million metric tons) until 2027. Assuming no new policies reducing greenhouse gases, CO2 emissions then rise by an additional 5 percent from 2027 to 2035, reaching 6,315 MMT CO2 in 2035."  That would be 25% higher than the 5,036 MMT CO2 emitted in 1990.  Warmer and more humid summers are likely to push those emissions higher.

US Energy Related CO2 Emissions, 1990-2035

Source: Annual Energy Outlook 2011 Early Release Overview, EIA, December 2010.

On 31 March 2011, just two days after the EIA released the 2010 data, it published Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the  U. S. 2009.  The report indicates that total U.S. anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 were 5.8 percent below the 2008 total. The decline from 6,983 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) in 2008 to 6,576 MMTCO2e in 2009 was the largest since 1990, driven mostly by falling CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use.  According to the report: 

"The decrease in U.S. CO2 emissions in 2009 resulted primarily from three factors: an economy in recession, a particularly hard-hit energy-intensive industries sector, and a large drop in the price of natural gas that caused fuel switching away from coal to natural gas in the electric power sector."

Online Resources:

Monthly Energy Review: March 2011.   U.S. Energy Information Administration, released 29 March 2011.

Annual Energy Outlook 2011 Early Release Overview.  Includes Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions.  See also EIA energy outlook projects growing reliance on natural gas from shale,  reduced energy import shares, and increased electricity generation from renewables and natural gas, press release (16 Dec 2011) from EIA.

Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the  U.S. 2009.   (Washington, DC: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2011). See also  EIA reports a record-setting 5.8-percent decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2009, press release (31 March 2011) from EIA.

Effects of Climate Change on Energy Production and Use in the United States [PDF], a report produced by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program in February 2008

Trends in Heating and Cooling Degree Days: Implications for Energy Demand. In Annual Energy Outlook 2008, EIA (2008). 

 

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