Renewable Energy Just Topped a Big Pollution Source in the U.S.

The U.S. saw greenhouse gas emissions rise 1.3% in 2022, but there were positive signs also in Rhodium Group’s data analysis.

Nothing is black and white when it comes to climate change, so even though Rhodium Group’s latest study found that the U.S. is failing in its quest to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 2022 still has some bright spots. 

The non-partisan Rhodium Group estimates that greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. increased slightly in 2022 by 1.3% over 2021, marking the second year in a row that emissions increased following a pandemic-induced drop of 10.6%. 

This comes after two straight years of declines. In 2019, the U.S. naturally reduced emissions by 1.3% before the pandemic forced everyone indoors. 

Gas consumption for electricity generation increased by 7% thanks in part to record-high summer temperatures, according to the study. This led to the share of natural gas in total electricity generation rising slightly to 39% from 37% year over year. 

Energy Emission Bright Spots Appear

There was good news baked into the data too, however.  

For one, GHG emissions, which is recognized by the majority of the scientific community as the main driving factor for climate change, were outpaced by expected GDP growth for 2022. 

While the official GDP numbers for the year won’t be available until September, the estimated 1.9% growth outpaced the 1.3% growth in gas emissions, potentially showing that the economy can do just fine without increasing the amount of pollution. 

Another positive note from the report shows that renewable energy and natural gas — a less carbon intensive fuel — displaced coal generation in 2022. 

Rhodium estimates that coal generation dropped by 8% year over year. That came as more coal-fired generators were retired but also because of disruptions to the railroads that deliver coal to power plants which hindered the coal industry. 

Those factors contributed to a 19% increase in the price of coal relative to 2021. 

Rhodium expects coal’s share of the electrical grid to fall to 20% from 23% in 2022, once all the data is collected. 

Renewable Energy Use Rises

Renewable energy generation rose by 12% year over year, and for the first time in 60 years, renewables surpassed coal, generating 22% of total electric power in the U.S.

Coal accounts for 28% of overall emissions in the U.S., 

So while the U.S. is making slight progress towards its energy emission goals, the bad news is that it “continues to fall behind in its efforts” to meet its Paris Agreement targets of reducing GHG emissions 50%-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. 

As of 2022, the U.S. is only 15.5% below 2005 levels. 

“In order to meet the 2025 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels and get back on track for the 2030 Paris goal, the US needs to significantly increase its efforts,” the study said. 

Rhodium praised the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act thanks to greenhouse and natural gas provisions, but says that “additional policies” are needed to meet the country’s goals. 

“These actions, together with additional policies from leading states as well as action from private actors, can put the target within reach — but all parties must act quickly,” the study says. 

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