Power sector CO2 emissions are lower than they have been since 1987

The NRG power plant in El Segundo, California.

Enlarge / The NRG power plant in El Segundo, California. (credit: Getty Images)

A bit of moderately good news this morning: carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the US electricity sector decreased by 28 percent between 2005 and 2017, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Before you start celebrating too much, note that this is only for the electricity sector. "CO2 emissions from all other energy sectors fell by only 5 percent," the EIA wrote. "Other energy sectors" include home heating, which is natural-gas based in much of the country and very difficult to decarbonize.

Turning back to the electricity sector, though, the EIA looked at energy demand in 2005 and projected how it might have grown out to 2017 if everything had stayed the same over those 12 years. In the prior period—between 1996 and 2005—electricity demand was growing at nearly two percent per year, causing a steady rise in emissions. If that growth trend had continued out to 2017 and no other changes to the carbon-intensity of the energy mix had been made, the electricity sector would be emitting more than 620 million metric tons of CO2 than it was in 2005.

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