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Load Growth, Natural Gas, and Renewables Push U.S. CO2 Emissions Lower

The Energy Information Administration recently reported that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States declined 15% in absolute terms from 2005 to 2013. Emissions were 27% lower in 2013 than were projected (based on 2005 demand growth and carbon intensity trends). Three fundamental changes in the electric power sector are driving the reductions: declining demand growth, ongoing switch from coal to less-carbon-intensive natural gas, and growth in non-carbon generation (e.g., solar and wind).

Key Details

  • Carbon dioxide emissions from the electric sector declined from 2,417 MMmt in 2005 to 2,053 MMmt in 2013
  • Lower demand growth reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 402 MMmt; natural gas switching reduced emissions by 212 MMmt; and new non-carbon generation reduced emissions by 150 MMmt
  • Non-carbon generation was driven by the rapid growth of wind and solar supported by federal tax credits and state renewable energy portfolio standards
  • Carbon dioxide emissions would have increased 17% in absolute terms from 2005 to 2013 using historical demand growth and carbon intensity (i.e., natural gas and renewables)


The United States has quietly, and to some surprisingly, reduced carbon emissions both against previous trends and in absolute terms through a combination of flat to declining demand, conversion to natural gas, and deployment of energy efficiency and renewables. Whether these gains can continue or represent “low-hanging fruit” remains to be seen as states begin to plan strategies for meeting new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules regulating carbon emissions from existing facilities.

Additional Information

EIA’s Today in Energy:

This report is part of the Clean Tech & Sustainability Minute series. To view all featured Minutes, please click here.

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Contributing Authors

Paul Quinlan Clean Tech Manager

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