The US Smart Grid Historic Day is Coming Soon

by / Thursday, 30 August 2012 / Published in Smartgrid-CI Blog

On August 1, the US Energy Information Administration revealed that the USA’s cut in CO2 emission almost fits the requirements from the Kyoto Protocol that the country never signed.

The consequences of the event remained almost unnoticed but it could be the most important piece of energy news for the USA in a long while. The American’s CO2 emission in early 2012 was its lowest since 1992; yes, its lowest in 20 years.
At this pace, the USA should reach their lowest CO2 level since 1990 by the end of the present year. This is the main goal assigned in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that the country never wanted to sign. CO2 emission in the US has been on a downward trend for the past four years because of the 2008 economic depression. According to the report, a very clement winter also played a role in this CO2 emission reduction as well as reduced gasoline demand that fell 2.7%, to its lowest level since mid-1996. The decline in coal fire generation is however the most spectacular factor in this reduction. Emission from coal was actually down 18% to 387 million metric tons in the January-March 2012, its lowest level since 1983.

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The explanation of the economic crisis does not really hold anymore. It took a while, but at the end of 2011 the US economy caught up for the 7.6% GDP that was lost in 2008. In other worlds the EIA graph tells us that the USA now generates the same GNP than it did before the financial crisis in emitting almost 15% less CO2. The US economy has become more energy efficient and more environmental friendly.
Is this trend here to last? The question is worth asking. In the 70’s the Americans also became more energy efficient and more environment conscious following two oil crisis in 1973 and 1979. But this did not last too long. As soon as the economic growth came back, consumers were very happy to get back to their old habits.
Today things seem different. On the one hand, the government is pushing forward for more efficient cars with the new CAFE standard law that is targeting an MPG of 54.5Miles a gallon for cars and light trucks by 2025.
This is a huge leap forward for the American consumers but not so much overseas. In Europe for instance the car models that came out on the market in the past three or four years are already playing in that league, thanks to their supercharge turbo diesel engines. Last year I spent sometimes in Europe for an assignment and I had the chance to drive a small Mercedes Benz for a couple days in Germany.I needed only one quarter of the tank for a 200 miles trip on a no-speed-limit autobahn. 

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On the other hand cheap gas seems to be here to stay. Drilling for new gas resources is booming at the same pace as utilities are shutting down their coal based power facilities; petroleum consumption is going down also because gas is becoming competitive against oil for utilities.
One thing is missing. The Tokyo Protocol is not about CO2 only but includes three other gases. It would be interesting to know what is happening with methane, nitrous oxide, and sulphur hexafluoride emission.
Let’s stay tuned until we hear about these details. Maybe we will learn soon that all US gas emissions have reached their 1990 level. It will be time to celebrate.   
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