Tracking Carbon Intensity with the Power Sector Carbon Index


In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
that are contributing to climate change, the electricity sector needs to play a big role. What we wanted to do here at Carnegie Mellon,
was to understand how the intensity of electricity emissions are changing over time. So what we’ve done is try to understand from
year to year how has the carbon intensity of the electricity sector evolved. We’re adding new power plants, natural gas,
renewables. So the grid is changing, and we want to track that. The Power Sector Carbon Index is an open and transparent
tool that allows anybody to understand how emissions have changed over time, and also to
understand how the power sector has been changing over time. And the way we have done that is to assemble
a large data set that includes how much emissions come out of every single power plant in the
United States and divide that by the total generation that is produced by all those power
plants in that same year. To build this tool, we use publicly available
data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. So we display several pieces of information
in our website. The first one and the most important one is
the carbon index. So that displays the carbon intensity in pounds
per megawatt hour, all of the electricity sector in the latest quarter. The other pieces
of information include plots that show how the carbon intensity has evolved over time. And as you scroll over the plot, you are able
to identify the actual numbers that were observed in every quarter. The third piece of information that we display
as a plot and that we’ll keep on updating, is to show the electricity generation in the
U.S. grid by fuel. So that allows us to see the share of natural
gas or coal or renewables as we evolve over time. For example, we are able to detect that in
recent years and in recent quarters, natural gas generation surpassed the generation from
coal. We’re going to update the Power Sector Carbon
Index every three months. This is the timeline when the government releases
the data that enables us to update the website. The overall impact of this tool is to provide
on a very regular basis where do we stand in the electricity sector in the United States. And we see quite important things. For example, between 2005 and now, the carbon
intensity of the electricity sector decreased by almost a quarter. This is really good news. What we hope is that the Power Sector Carbon
Index can help us understand where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going in
the future. And we’ll be here to track it.

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