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By How Much did the Grid Clean?

Yesterday’s column addressed how clean was the U.S. electric grid in 2018 relative to other countries’ grids? Today, we’ll address the question, by how much did the grid clean since 2000?

To answer this question, we again crunched data in the International Energy Agency’s recent report, “Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2018.” And in tables published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In 2018, as we showed yesterday, the U.S. grid’s mix was 27 percent coal, 1 percent oil, 35 percent natural gas, 19 percent nuclear, 7 percent hydro, 2 percent biomass and waste, 7 percent wind, and 2 percent solar. That’s 28 percent high emissions of carbon dioxide (coal and oil), 35 percent of low emissions (natural gas), and 37 percent zero emissions.

In 2000, in contrast, the U.S. grid’s mix was 52 percent coal, 3 percent oil, 16 percent natural gas, 20 percent nuclear, 7 percent hydro, and 2 percent biomass and waste.

So, from 2000 to 2018, the coal pie slice was drastically reduced by almost half, from 52 percent to 27 percent. And the small oil slice was also drastically reduced, from 3 percent to 1 percent.

This means high emissions went from 55 percent of U.S. grid generation to 28 percent. Another 1 percent and the cut would be exactly by half.

What picked up the difference? The natural gas slice increased from 16 percent to 35 percent. Thanks to fracking. The wind slice increased from zip to 7 percent. And solar increased from zip to 2 percent.

During the same eighteen year period, the world’s electric grids raised the percent contribution of wind by 5 percent, and solar by 2 percent. But this was entirely offset by dropping nuclear’s contribution by the same 7 percent.

The world’s grids raised the contribution of natural gas by 5 percent – largely due to the increase in the U.S. – which entirely offset the drop in oil’s contribution by the same 5 percent.

In 2018, the U.S. burned just 7.7 percent of the world’s coal combustion. For perspective, U.S. population is 4.3 percent of world population.

China burned 51.3 percent of the world’s coal combustion. Its population is 18.4 percent of world population. Its per capita coal use is far higher than the U.S.

India burned 11.1 percent of the world’s coal combustion, and Europe burned 8.6 percent. Notably the U.S burned significantly less coal than Europe.