A new study, "Halfway to Zero," was published by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in April, offering promising news just in time for Earth Day. It shows that the power sector has made surprisingly dramatic reductions of emissions in the past 15 years. The industry has dropped 50% below projections made at the beginning of the time frame, putting it slightly below the midpoint to reaching the ultimate target of zero emissions, as the title suggests.
The Berkeley study started with projections made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2005 Annual Energy Outlook. Those projections envisioned a "business-as-usual" scenario, in which power industry emissions would increase by 27% to just over 3,000 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon emissions in a 15-year span ending in 2020.
In fact, the opposite occurred. According to the study, carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the power sector in 2020 were only 1,450 MMT. That’s more than 50% below the earlier projections and about 40% of the numbers in 2005.
According to the Berkeley Lab, public policy, markets and technology have contributed to this rapid decline.
The study notes that demand for electricity was 24% lower in 2020 than what was projected in 2005 by the EIA. Wind and solar also outperformed expectations, delivering 13 times more generation in 2020 than projected. Total renewable electricity supply outperformed expectations by an even greater margin. When hydropower, biomass and geothermal are included in the calculations, the study notes that renewable performance was 79% higher than projected.
While this is good news for the environment, it is also good news for the economy. The study observes that electricity-supply related employment was 29% higher than envisioned in the same business-as-usual projection for 2020. According to the Berkeley Lab, this is because the renewable energy sector is job-intensive, requiring more jobs per unit output than fossil fuels.