U.S. Power Sector More Efficient Even As Overall Emissions Rose in 2018

Growth of natural gas and renewables, plus greater energy efficiency kept U.S. power emissions in check, but faster economic growth and volatile weather lifted energy demand and overall emissions

Image: PixabayImage: Pixabay

The 2019 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, published by BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), outlines key trends in sustainable energy, comprising the most dynamic elements of the American energy marketplace, including energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy.

The electricity sector continued to improve its carbon intensity in 2018 due to increased renewable energy and natural gas power generation and investments in energy efficiency, even as a stronger economy and volatile weather boosted energy demand and contributed to a rise in economy-wide carbon dioxide (CO?) emissions. Installations of renewables hit 19.5 gigawatts in 2018. Solar accounted for a combined 11.6 gigawatts last year followed by wind at 7.5 gigawatts. In 2018, hydro added 142 megawatts, biomass and waste-to-energy added 103 megawatts, and geothermal added 53 megawatts.

“Continued expansion of sustainable energy is not just beneficial to the environment, it is an engine of American economic growth,” BCSE president Lisa Jacobson explained. The entire U.S. energy sector employs approximately 6.5 million Americans, up 2 percent in 2017 from 2016 (the most recent data available), with energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas sectors employing 3.4 million Americans—or 52.3 percent of the entire energy sector—in 2017. ?

Consumers experienced near record low energy costs on a household basis and the number of energy jobs grew. Meanwhile, greater corporate purchasing of renewables, state policies and plunging prices for energy storage continued to reshape the nation’s energy portfolio. Lithium-ion battery prices dropped another 18 percent year-on-year, boosting both EVs and stationary storage applications and encouraging electric utilities to sign power purchase agreements pairing storage with solar and wind. ?

“More coal plants closing and being replaced by cleaner sources of power marked a key trend that continued in 2018,” said Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF's head of Americas. “However, the overall jump in CO? emissions during 2018 is a clear reminder that technological advancements on their own cannot address the climate challenge. Strong, supportive policies are needed at the local, state, as well as federal level.”

Support for sustainable energy by the business community and states occurred despite the lack of federal policy in many of these areas. Although one year of energy consumption and emissions data does not signify a trend, the statistics in this year’s Factbook do point to the importance of policy. Smart federal, state and local policies should support and leverage private sector investment going forward to ensure these gains continue, especailly in the industrial and buildings sectors that can be more challenging to decarbonize.

Windfair Staff
BCSE, Factbook, BNEF, USA, report, 2018, electricity, jobs, energy efficiency, growth, renewable energy

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