Wind energy proving itself a critical solution to achieve large, long-lasting reductions in carbon pollution

Today, EPA released data showing that power plant carbon dioxide emissions declined 10% between 2010-2012. During this period, U.S. wind energy production increased 48%. The U.S. wind energy fleet is currently reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million tons per year, or just under 5% of total electric sector emissions in 2012.

Interestingly, preliminary Energy Information Administration  (EIA) data for 2013 shows that some of the previous emissions reductions from switching from coal to gas, which contributed to the reduction cited by EPA today, have actually subsided. It finds electric sector CO2 emissions were up about 2% for the first seven months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

While some of the emissions reductions noted by the EPA appear to be fleeting, the EIA data shows that wind energy is a key contributor in reducing emissions for the long-lasting.

As outlined in the table below, the increase so far in 2013 has been driven by coal electricity generation increasing somewhat and gas generation decreasing by a larger amount, attributable to natural gas prices rebounding from the extreme lows set in 2012. Importantly, the 2013 emissions increase is much less than it would have been had total fossil fuel generation not declined thanks to increased wind energy use.

 Source: EIA Generation Change (MWh) Between 2012 and 2013 (Year-to-Date)
Coal + 65.5 million MWh
Gas – 101.9 million MWh
Total coal and gas generation – 36.4 million MWh

What factors drove that decrease in total fossil fuel generation? Increased wind energy output was the primary factor, followed by reduced electricity demand, as highlighted in the table below and the pie chart at bottom.

Source: EIA Generation Change (MWh) Between 2012 and 2013 (Year-to-Date), by source
Wind + 17.7 million MWh
Solar + 2.1 million MWh
Nuclear + 2.2 million MWh
Hydroelectric – 3.5 million MWh
Reduced demand + 17.5 million MWh

What lesson can we draw from this data? While some of the emissions reductions noted by the EPA are fleeting, wind energy is a key contributor to the long-lasting strategy for reducing U.S. carbon emissions.