Coal-To-Natural-Gas Switch For Power Generation Is Paying Off In Smaller Carbon Footprint

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  • Natural Gas California by Shutterstock
    A natural gas power plant near Oxnard, Calif.
  • Natural Gas
    Natural gas.
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Natural gas-fired power plants that use new technology emit almost half the amount of greenhouse gasses coal-fired power plants do, according to a new study released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, “Reduced Emissions of CO2, NOx and SO2 from U.S. Power Plants Due to the Switch from Coal to Natural Gas with Combined Cycle Technology,” found that 40 percent less carbon dioxide is released by what is called a combined-cycle natural gas power plant.

The plant collects the heat/exhaust produced by burning the natural gas and recycles it to produce more electricity.

“Since more and more of our electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, emissions from the power sector are lower by 20, 30, even 40 percent for some gases since 1997,” Joost de Gouw, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.

Based on measurements taken in 2012, the study concluded that coal-based power plants emitted an average of 32 ounces of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt hour of electricity. Natural gas power plants emitted an average of 19 ounces and the combined-cycle natural gas plants emitted an average of 15 ounces CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity.

The study's findings jibe with President Barack Obama’s climate action plan to achieve 17 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels.

The president’s Climate Action Plan, released in June, builds on the 2009-2011 progress to reduce carbon emissions. The administration also has put in place the country’s first-ever national carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

A key component of the action plan is to expand and modernize the electric grid to save consumers money on energy bills while promoting cleaner sources of energy. In pushing these goals, Obama signed a memorandum this month to direct federal agencies to “streamline the siting, permitting and review process for transmission projects across federal, state and tribal governments.”

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(Note: Natural gas plant photo by Shutterstock.com.)

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