Power plants have been the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States for more than 40 years. But the ever-changing picture of electricity production has changed that situation. According to new data from the government’s Energy Information Administration, transportation has now taken over the top spot.
The transportation sector includes cars, trucks, planes, trains and boats. It now emits 1.9 billion tons of CO2 annually, narrowly beating out the electric power sector, which emits 1.8 billion tons. Until the past five years, annual emissions from electric power generation were well in excess of 2 billion tons.
The power sector has declined over the past ten years as a result of more and more electricity being produced by less carbon-intensive sources. It is not a result of Americans using less electricity. The switch from coal to natural gas and the rapid growth in wind and solar power are the primary causes of the change.
Over the coming years, transportation emissions are also likely to decline with increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and with the expanded used of hybrid and electric vehicles. The number of plug-in electric vehicles (both plug-in hybrids and electric cars) sold each year has increased by a factor of eight between 2011 and 2016. The number of publicly available charging stations has tripled over that same period. Globally, the use of electric vehicles is expanding even more rapidly.
Transportation and electric power together consume 2/3 of the energy produced in this country. The rest goes to industrial, commercial, and residential use. The transition to greener ways to make electricity and power vehicles is essential to a sustainable energy future.
Photo, posted March 12, 2013, courtesy of BK via Flickr.