May report: US emissions expected to fall further

us-mapThe US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its monthly Short Term Energy Outlook today. And their projection for 2009 US carbon dioxide emissions from energy fell even further than last month’s. The drop was led by a further decrease in estimated 2009 oil consumption.

The Details

The EIA expects oil consumption to fall 3% in the US to a little more than 18.8 million barrels per day. Most of the reduced demand is projected to come from lower use of distillates (mainly diesel) and jet fuel. For coal, the EIA predicts consumption to fall ~2.6% based on much lower industrial and coke plant demand and a substitution to natural gas for electricity generation. Even after taking up some slack from coal, natural gas consumption is expected to fall 1.9% (.1% further than estimated in April). Adding all these decreases together produces emissions that are 3% lower than in 2008.

Room for Further Reductions

I see room for emissions to fall even further than 3% as petroleum demand is currently more than 5% below last year (not just 3%) and substitution from coal to natural gas may drive a huge drop in coal demand of 4+% (compared to their ~2.6% estimate).

Some Background on Natural Gas Substitution of Coal

The report included a supplement on coal-to-natural gas substitution which helped me understand the situation more clearly. Since natural gas power plants are more efficient (less heat needed per kWh generated), natural gas prices that are higher than coal prices by 33% or less are often competitive. While most coal demand is guaranteed through long-term contracts, as much as 10-20% of some regional electricity markets can switch from spot market coal to spot market natural gas purchases. A natural gas price of $4 per MMBtu is more economical than a coal price of $3.25 per MMBtu in many efficient combined cycle natural gas plants.

Bottom Line: US greenhouse gas emissions from energy are now predicted by the EIA to decline faster than the swift fall of 2008. For us to continue this trend in 2010 and beyond, we must base our economic recovery on efficiency and renewable energy deployment (through federal climate legislation and a Renewable Electricity Standard).

I’ll keep you updated as progress is made-

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