Thursday, January 10, 2013

Who's who when it comes to CO2? In Pa. that is...

Some interesting little tidbits from the Energy Information Administration:

  • Pennsylvania was the fourth largest coal-producing State in the Nation in 2011, and the only State producing anthracite coal, which has a higher heat value than other kinds of coal.
  • Annual gross natural gas production more than doubled in Pennsylvania in 2011, exceeding 1 trillion cubic feet, due to production from the Marcellus shale.
  • The first commercial U.S. nuclear power plant came online in 1957 in Shippingport; in 2011, Pennsylvania ranked second in the Nation in electricity generation from nuclear power.
  • Pennsylvania generated 44 percent of its net electricity from coal and 33 percent from nuclear power in 2011.
  • The State’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards require 18 percent of electricity sold by 2021 to come from renewable or approved alternative sources, including at least 0.5 percent solar photovoltaic power. In 2011, renewable energy accounted for 3.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s net electricity generation.
From this it obvious that coal is still king in Pennsylvania. The state has a ways to go to hit the 18% renewable electricity sources by 2021, to meet this extremely modest goal renewable power generation must increase almost 6-fold in 10 years. Considering that this is 2011 data, it is possible that the state is even further behind.

The reason why this matters becomes clear when you look at where carbon dioxide emissions in the state are coming from:
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

For the record, Pennsylvania is ranked 3rd in the nation for carbon dioxide emissions by the EIA. I avoided cluttering up the plot with trendlines as it's clear that the biggest emission sector, electricity generation, is also the only one that has more or less increased over most the twenty year period in question. Overall, Pennsylvania's CO2 emissions in 2010 were 4.2% less than 1990, but much of this can be attributed the dramatic decrease from industrial sources. Note that emissions from electrical generation were 12% greater. This is due to a combination of factors:
  1. Even though electrical energy from coal dropped 8.4% from 2011 to 2012, much of Pennsylvania's electricity is still generated by coal.
  2. Electrical power generation has increased...
  3. ...and carbon emission-free nuclear power has remained fairly constant since 1990 (roughly 1/3) and renewables remain a tiny source...
  4. the difference has been made up by using natural gas* for power generation.
Although burning natural gas does produce much less CO2 (and other pollutants) than the burning of coal, any benefits are offset by the fact that we are burning more fossil fuel overall to generate greater amounts of electricity. Also keep in mind that it's the global carbon budget that matters and Pennsylvania's lost industrial output has simply moved elsewhere, if that sector had remained constant the state's carbon footprint would have increased rather than decreased simply due to greater electricity generation. Yes, using natural gas for the increased generation is relatively better than using coal, but it still adds more CO2 to the atmosphere.

*The EIA do not indicate the source of the natural gas. Many pro- and anti- drilling advocates miss the fact that locally produced Marcellus shalegas cannot be used in the raw state and cannot is not transmitted directly from wellhead to local power plants.

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