Based on yesterday’s Short-Term Energy Outlook by the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), carbon dioxide pollution is poised to fall ~2.5% this year. Rapid growth in wind and solar power, massive efficiency, and lower demand for fossil fuels has sent US emission levels down to a level not seen since the 1990s.
With only one and a half months to go, projections expect oil consumption to fall 5.4%, coal demand to stay the same, and natural gas demand to increases only 1.1% this year (compared to 6.5% last year). Add those totals together and, leaving other emissions constant, we get net carbon dioxide emissions of ~6.11 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, ~2.5% below 2007 and lower than any output so far this century.
Higher fossil fuel prices spurred our country to a more efficient lifestyle that utilized our natural resources of bright sunshine and strong winds. Wind power is forecast to have a record year, growing more than 40% or over 7 GW. This growth will put us over 24 GW, overtaking Germany as the top wind power producer in the world. Even as nationwide gas prices have now fallen below $2.20 per gallon (almost $1 below last year at this time), consumers are driving fewer miles and more efficient vehicles. We were also lucky to get a cooler summer, requiring less coal- and natural gas-fired electricity to cool our buildings than in 2007.
For 2009, the EIA predicts further emission reductions as our nation faces the tough economic reality of a deep recession with 1.4% lower GDP. This estimate, especially a large reduction in industrial production, leads them to project a drop in consumption of all fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) in 2009. Growth in renewables such as wind and solar will slow, creating both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, consumers will see lower prices for wind turbines and solar panels as supply catches up with demand. But on the other hand, lower prices may undercut the cost of production, erasing the strong profits of the last several quarters. The passage of a cap-and-trade climate bill in 2009 will be crucial to assure these innovative industries that robust long-term growth prospects await them when the economic recovery takes hold.
The lower emissions of 2008 will make our 2020 goal of 1990 levels easier to achieve. With this update on the projections I reported last month, our nation is able to adjust our energy system at a very manageable 1% per year average rate of emissions reduction through 2020. While we will not have as much cash to finance more expensive projects in 2009, we can use the period to focus on cost-cutting efficiency to get our balance sheets in order toward a renewable energy wave in the 2010s.
Bottom Line: Congratulations, USA! You have shown the world in 2008 that you can deploy efficiency and renewable energy to lower carbon dioxide emissions substantially. But 2009 will test our commitment.
Will we 1) seize the opportunity to lower our energy costs further through efficiency and prepare for a sustainable energy revolution that spurs economic recovery?
Or will we 2) fall into our old 1990s habits of excessive energy consumption growth that contributed to our current economic difficulties?
Sustainable Energy Transition (SET) aims to help individuals and institutions thrive by picking choice #1 to lead a global energy revolution that empowers local communities, creates millions of jobs, and stabilizes our climate to preserve a livable world for ourselves and future generations.