ORIGINAL REPORTING: Climate Impacts Of The Ukraine War
Ukraine war could extend bump in US coal use, but utilities remain confident in decarbonization path; The 2021 U.S. carbon emissions spike showed how high-cost natural gas can up coal use and slow the climate fight
Herman K. Trabish, March 24, 2022 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: The war in Ukraine continues to wreak havoc, but the energy crisis it instigated is likely to lead in the long run to benefits in the fight to turn back the climate crisis.
The U.S. power sector’s success since 2005 in reducing carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) was slowed in 2021 as market factors now being reproduced by the war in Ukraine forced more use of coal.
As the U.S. economy recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, electricity demand rose 3%, but economy-wide CO2 emissions grew 6.2% when the price of natural gas spiked and it was replaced by lower-cost, higher CO2 emitting coal generation, a January Rhodium Group preliminary assessment found. That may not disrupt long-term U.S. power sector CO2 reductions, but similar market changes caused by the war in Ukraine could, some utilities and analysts worry.
“One year of data is not conclusive, but this increase in emissions is not a step in the right direction,” Rhodium Group Energy and Climate Practice Senior Analyst Ben King told Utility Dive. “Natural gas has been increasingly displacing coal in the dispatch stack, but coal is moving into the money” as demand for natural gas drives its price up, he added.
Last year’s market changes seemed unique to the COVID recovery, as electricity demand grew and renewables-driven supply uncertainties and load uncertainties accelerated, according to utility and power sector analysts. But a February National Academy of Sciences study suggests the high natural gas prices and increased use of coal are due to a worrying pattern created by market factors developing over the last decade.
“More often in 2019 than in 2010, coal substituted for natural gas in marginal hours,” University of North Carolina Professor of Environmental Economics Andrew J. Yates said. “Total emissions were not higher in 2019 than in 2010 but the extra emissions from extra electricity demand were slightly higher in 2019 than in 2010.”
Post-COVID market factors drove 2021’s increased marginal coal use and increased CO2 emissions, Yates, King and others agreed. Ukraine war-driven near-term European demand for U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG), along with other market factors, could similarly impact 2022 U.S. emissions, utilities and analysts cautiously — and sometimes reluctantly — acknowledged. But utility commitments and policy mandates for renewables and coal closures could make 2021 a momentary hesitation in the ongoing climate fight, they added…” click here for more