2023 US CO2 emissions from energy

EIA recently published the year-end energy-related CO2 emissions numbers for 2023 for the US. CO2 emissions from coal combustion continues to go down, while natural gas continues to go up. CO2 from burning oil products (gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, etc) is relatively flat, with a slight uptrend since the COVID-related economic disruptions of 2020. The decrease in CO2 from coal was larger than the increases from natural gas and oil, so the overall trend was down for last year. Units are in Million Metric Tons of CO2.

US CO2 emissions, all sectors
Year   Coal  NatGas   Oil  Total
2017   1318   1471   2332   5132
2018   1263   1627   2377   5278
2019   1078   1685   2374   5147
2020    876   1653   2044   4584
2021   1003   1656   2235   4905
2022    939   1742   2249   4941   
2023    781   1756   2259   4807 

EIA pdf link here.

Petroleum products remain the leading source of CO2 in the US. Those products are mostly consumed in the transportation sector.
Note: In these tables, there are a few minor sources of CO2 that are not included, so the sum of coal, natural gas and oil does not quite equal the total.

In the electricity sector, natural gas is now the leading source of CO2. Last year was the first time natural gas produced more CO2 than coal in the power sector.

US CO2 emissions, electric power sector
        Coal  NatGas  Oil  Total
2017    1207   506     19   1743
2018    1153   578     22   1764
2019     974   617     16   1618
2020     788   635     16   1450
2021     910   613     18   1551
2022     851   659     21   1542   
2023     697   705     14   1427

EIA link here.

The current government administration has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 (from 2005 levels) and to get to net zero by 2050. Based on past and current trends, there is little chance of either of those things happening. CO2 from energy is only a part of total greenhouse gas releases, but the CO2 portion needs to be greatly reduced to achieve overall reductions. The increasing reliance on natural gas to provide dispatchable, reliable power generation guarantees the US will keep emitting large amounts of CO2 into the foreseeable future. Reliance on oil for transportation will continue. For natural gas, there is also the issue of fugitive emissions of methane along the production supply line. That methane is also a significant greenhouse gas.

  • Pete

If we take the total US energy related CO2 emissions for 2023 and divide by the estimated population for 2023, we get (4807 million tonnes / 334.9 million people) = 14.4 tonnes per capita. This is down slightly from recent years, but is still high compared to other industrialized nations. Below is a short list for comparison. The US is for 2023. All other nations are for 2022, as reported in this link, but shouldn’t be too much different for 2023. Also, the link provided might include small sources such as cement manufacture and other industrial sources.

               Tonnes CO2 per capita
United States          14.4
Canada                 14.2
United Kingdom          4.7
Germany                 8.0
France                  4.6
Russia                 11.4
China                   8.0
Australia              15.0
Japan                   8.5
South Korea            11.6

India (2 tonnes per capita) is somewhat lower than the countries listed above, but India’s per capita GDP is still low. It should also be noted that both China and India have increasing trends on the amount of CO2 emitted per year, whereas most other nations have declining trends. On an absolute basis, China emits more than twice as much CO2 per year than the US, and India is catching up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Looking at the electricity sector, the best metric for comparison is grams of CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated.

US tonnes of CO2 in the electricity sector
US kwh of electricity (Small scale solar in included in the total.)

The US electric power CO2 intensity for 2023 was 336 grams per kwh. Looking at previous years, we can see a declining trend.

Year   Grams of CO2 per kwh
2017          429
2018          419
2019          388
2020          358
2021          373
2022          359
2023          336

The decreasing trend in the US is largely due to replacing coal-fired power generation with natural gas-fired power plants. The increasing amounts of wind and solar renewable energy also contribute to a decrease in CO2 intensity. However, since natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and natural gas is needed to back up the intermittent renewable sources, there is a limit as to how low the US power grid CO2 intensity can go. Below are some comparisons. (Again, the US is for 2023. All other countries are for 2022, from the link here.)

United States    336 gramsCO2/kwh
Canada           126
United Kingdom   261
Germany          385
France            85
Russia           364
China            534
Australia        502
Japan            495
South Korea      438
  • Pete
1 Like

Heard something interesting this morning on NPR. The US utilities price against Nat Gas. Meaning it is assumed nat gas prices are the main price determinant. They are not in many instances the main determinant. Renewables are being undercounted.

Natural gas is the largest source of electric power generation in the US (over 40%), and fuel costs are the largest part of total operating costs. Therefore, yes, the price of natural gas is a driver for the price of electricity.

Operating expenses for US electric power generation:

In the link above, for Fossil Steam, fuel costs 3.2 cents/kwh, or 73% of total Operation, Maintenance and Fuel costs. If we look at the newer combined cycle gas plants, fuel costs are more than 80% of total O&M+F.

Nuclear, on the other hand, is about 27% for fuel, 46% operation, and 27% maintenance. This doesn’t include the amortized costs of construction and other capital expenses.

Since the intermittent renewables are so unreliable, they always need to have gas, coal, hydro or nuclear backup in order to keep the lights on. The most common form of backup in the US is natural gas, so the renewables producers would like to have gas prices remain low. Will they remain low forever? I’m guessing probably not.

  • Pete
1 Like

There are interesting dynamics in that conversation.

Batteries are not up to snuff. If they were renewables would master it all.

That is part of the dynamics.