Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the U.S. have been on a decline since peaking in 2007. On the surface this appears to be great news, but what are the reasons behind this decline and what effective lessons can we take from this reduction? More so, what ongoing role does energy efficiency improvements play now and into the future?
Nationally, the causes of CO2 emission decline are multiple and can be largely attributed to advances in the natural gas industry. However state and federal regulation, energy efficiency improvements, a receding economy, renewable energy, and alternative fuel sources all play significant roles as well. What is clear is that there is no “Silver Bullet.” In other words, there isn’t a single contributing factor that can maintain our energy needs while dramatically reducing our CO2 emissions.
Of the 4 main contributing sectors to CO2 emissions shown in the chart below, the “electricity generation” sector yields the highest percentage of overall emissions. Therefore this sector contains the greatest opportunity for savings either through alternative energy generation or reduced demand.
In Minnesota, the Next Generation Energy Act pledged to reduce statewide CO2 emission levels to 15% below 2005 levels by 2015 and 30% lower by 2025. As of the end of the 2012 calendar year, the state is approximately 3% lower. It appears that as a state, Minnesota will likely fall short of their goals for 2015. If we are to continue our collective efforts to reduce emissions and still attempt to reach the 2025 goal, a multi-tiered approach is necessary.
Regionally in 2005, Xcel Energy pledged to reduce their CO2 emission levels 20% by CO2 thus far from their operations. This equates to a 16% reduction of emissions throughout their 8-state territory — well above targeted levels. Xcel is on track to exceed expectations and if any federal mandates should be enacted regarding CO2 levels generated by utilities, Xcel is in a solid position to be ahead of the curve and a 2013, Xcel announced that it had eliminated 14 million tons of EnerChange began as a pilot program in October of 2010 within the Xcel and Centerpoint territories. EnerChange’s mission of providing a no-cost service to non-profit energy users within the Xcel and CenterPoint territories has contributed to their overall reduction goals. Thus far it is estimated that through the efforts of EnerChange and its clients there has been a reduction of 9,930 metric ton of CO2.
This is equivalent to removing 2,091 cars off our roads! CO2 only tells part of the green house gas story. In our next chapter we will explore a greenhouse gas that has steadily been on the rise and has recently been discovered to be 5 times more detrimental to ozone depletion. The culprit: methane.
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