Electricity that goes to your home is all the same, but the way that electricity is made can be different. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) most recent short-term energy outlook shows that very well.
Let’s look at natural gas and coal. “EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants will rise from 34% in 2018 to 37% in 2019 and 2020. EIA forecasts that the share of U.S. electric generation from coal will average 25% in 2019 and 22% in 2020, down from 28% in 2018.”
Here’s the graph that shows how coal has declined.
Here’s the graph that shows how natural gas has increased in making electricity.
What to make of this? Both coal and natural gas are fossil fuels, so both have carbon footprints. Natural gas is roughly 40% or so the carbon footprint of coal, speaking in broad terms. If natural gas is making electricity in place of coal making electricity, then there are fewer emissions going out. If the gas plant is making new electricity and not replacing coal, then there are emissions being added to what we have now. Some critics of fossil fuels don’t like gas in any use because of the methane emissions.
Here’s how EIA says it: “EIA also expects U.S. CO2 emissions in 2019 to decline because the forecast share of electricity generated from natural gas and renewables will increase while the share generated from coal, which is a more carbon-intensive energy source, will decrease.”
Out of the woods, then, on managing carbon? Hardly. There are many factors in carbon emissions and making electricity is only one of them.
NOTE: The feature image on this blog is from the Duke Energy website and exemplifies the use of gas versus coal for a future plant. From the site: “Duke Energy Progress has committed about $2 billion to the Asheville (NC) region. … Duke Energy will shut down two coal-fired units at the existing Asheville Plant, close coal ash basins and invest in a new combined cycle natural gas plant. The new plant will operate about 75 percent more efficiently than the existing coal units – lowering fuel costs on customers’ bills and reducing environmental emissions.”