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Title: Committed Emissions of the U.S. Power Sector, 2000–2018

Annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the U.S. power sector decreased 24% from 2000 to 2018, while carbon intensity (CO2per unit of electricity generated) declined by 34%. These reductions have been attributed in part to a shift from coal to natural gas, as gas‐fired plants emit roughly half the CO2emissions as coal plants. To date, no analysis has looked at the coal‐to‐gas shift from the perspective of commitment accounting—the cumulative future CO2emissions expected from power infrastructure. We estimate that between 2000 and 2018, committed emissions in the U.S. power sector decreased 12% (six GtCO2), from 49 to 43 GtCO2, assuming average generator lifetimes and capacity factors. Taking into consideration methane leakage during the life cycle of coal and gas plants, this decrease in committed emissions is further offset (e.g., assuming a 3% leakage rate, there is effectively no reduction at all). Thus, although annual emissions have fallen, cumulative future emissions will not be substantially lower unless existing coal and gas plants operate at significantly lower rates than they have historically. Moreover, our estimates of committed emissions for U.S. coal and gas plants finds steep reductions in plant use and/or early retirements are already needed for the country to meet its targets under the Paris climate agreement—even if no new fossil capacity is added.

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Award ID(s):
1639318 1735040
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
AGU Advances
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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