After analyzing recent Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, a professor from Rice University realized the U.S. could potentially realize its 2030 emissions targets as early as this year. Coal’s downslide combined with warmer winter temperatures have led to less carbon emissions so far. If coal doesn’t rebound, we could be on track to meet the 2030 goals over a decade early.
In 2016, coal production tanked 29 percent compared to the same timeframe in 2015. Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Daniel Cohan said if coal production remains so low, America could see a 32 percent carbon emissions reduction from 2005 levels. That’s the exact goal established in the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
Related: The good and the bad of the EIA’s International Energy Outlook report
Cohan told Forbes, “If we end up just a few percent away from the 2030 target this year, it becomes tough to argue that CPP is unattainable or too costly.”
Coal production has dipped due in part to cheap prices for natural gas. While natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and not a longterm solution, when burned natural gas emits about half the carbon as coal.
The EIA doesn’t think we’ll reach the 2030 targets, but they have lowered emissions estimates multiple times as they received more data on coal use. The agency has overestimated coal use and the price of renewables in the past. Their most recent data even indicates there was a larger stockpile of coal than usual in March due to the warmer winter.
The warm winter and low natural gas prices aren’t the only factors that account for the promising trend to reach the 2030 goals. Cohan said diverse renewable energy technologies have also played a part in changing energy markets. He said, “Common sense can recognize that coal-laden trains from Wyoming, or even gas fracked from shale fields, will struggle to compete with direct-delivered breezes and sunshine as renewable technologies cheapen.”
Images via Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons