oal accounts for around 30% of electricity generated in the U.S., just behind natural gas.
The United States could achieve its emission reduction targets set out in the Paris climate agreement if it were to phase out the use of coal in electricity generation by 2024, the authors of a new study by experts at Portland State University.
Coal accounts for around 30% of electricity generated in the U.S., just behind natural gas, whose share is slightly more at 32%, according to the Energy Information Administration. Although natural gas, too, is a fossil fuel, burning it at modern gas-powered plants results in up to 60% less carbon dioxide emission than that produced by a conventional coal-fired plant.
That is why weaning itself off coal-fired plants would help the U.S. take a large step towards meeting its Paris targets. In exchange for coal, the country should shift to an energy portfolio based on natural gas, biofuels, as well as renewables like wind and solar power. “The declining costs of both natural gas and renewables is already displacing significant amounts of coal-fired generation,” said Randall Bluffstone, a professor of economics at Portland State University who was one of the co-authors of the study.
Their research also showed that enhancing energy efficiency and adopting electric vehicles on a far larger scale would also be highly cost-effective strategies for meeting the U.S.’s emissions targets under the Paris accord.
Boosting the role of nuclear energy in the U.S.’s electricity mix could also lower emissions significantly at relatively low costs, the authors argue. “In the best of all worlds, nuclear power also would be part of the mix,” they write, noting that if 12 new nuclear power plants were to be built by 2025, they could efficiently compensate for the loss of coal in the energy mix.
“Given the concerns and controversy surrounding nuclear power, this is significant,” Bluffstone explained.