In the media

Coal producers affirm U.S. carbon emissions from electricity will keep declining

By David Cherney


13 January 2021

This article first appeared in Forbes

When it comes to carbon emissions coal is king, even though it’s been over 10 years since coal abdicated its throne as the primary source of electricity in the United States. In 2020, coal accounted for under 1/4th of electricity generation—less than the combined total of renewables and nuclear generation—yet is responsible for the majority of carbon emissions.  

Carbon emissions from the U.S. electric sector have been on a downward trajectory for more than a decade. The reason behind this trajectory is straightforward.  The U.S. electric sector has been burning less coal every single year. So much so that carbon emissions from coal in the U.S. electricity sector are more than 50% lower today than just a decade ago. This is a result of the declining economics of coal power plants due to low natural gas prices, increasing numbers of low-cost renewable plants, and more stringent environmental regulations.

Despite this trajectory, coal still remains the largest fuel source of carbon emissions on the U.S. electricity grid, accounting for 60% of CO2 emissions. While some clean energy advocates may have moved on to fight natural gas as a source of carbon emissions, understanding the carbon intensity of the U.S. electricity grid remains a question for the future of coal.

David Cherney is a US energy policy expert at PA Consulting

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