(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own)
* Chartbook: https://tmsnrt.rs/3pdfSQ7
By John Kemp
LONDON, Jan 22 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden was elected with a promise to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero no later than 2050.
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have already fallen more than 14% from their peak in 2007, but with almost all the reduction attributable to the substitution of gas for coal in the electric generating system.
If the energy system is to contribute to economy-wide net zero emissions in less than three decades, much faster and deeper decarbonisation will be needed (https://tmsnrt.rs/3pdfSQ7).
In 2019, U.S. energy consumption was responsible for releasing 5.15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The major sources of emissions were from the combustion of oil (2.37 billion tonnes), gas (1.69 billion tonnes) and coal (1.08 billion tonnes).
Total annual emissions had already declined by almost 860 million tonnes compared with 2007 (â€œMonthly energy reviewâ€, EIA, Dec. 23).
Annual emissions from coal had fallen almost 1.1 billion tonnes, but this was partially offset by increased emissions from other sources of almost 240 million tonnes.
Gas-related emissions, in particular, increased by almost 450 billion tonnes per year, as a result of the huge increase in gas-fired power generation.
In effect, the energy system has swapped high carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion for lower but still significant emissions from gas-fired generating units.
As a result, coal now accounts for just 21% of all energy-related emissions compared with 33% from gas and 46% from petroleum.
There is still scope for reducing coal-related emissions by more than 1 billion tonnes per year by phasing out remaining coal-fired power units or retrofitting them with carbon capture technology.
The technology for replacing coal-fired power generation with zero-emission wind, solar and nuclear is fully mature, so in principle these reductions can be achieved, provided challenges related to electric reliability and security can be resolved.
But that would still leave more than 4 billion tonnes per year of other emissions needing to be eliminated or captured to meet the net zero target (â€œThe Biden plan for a clean energy revolution and environmental justiceâ€, published in 2020).
In the last decade, total energy-related emissions from all sources declined at an average rate of just under 25 million tonnes or 0.5% per year.
For the net zero target to be achieved on time, energy-related emissions would need to fall by an average of more than 165 million tonnes per year over the next 30 years, over six times faster.
– Can Biden transform the U.S. energy system? (Reuters, Jan. 21) (Editing by Susan Fenton)