On January 30th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released eGRID data for 2021 that provides the public with environmental characteristics of electric power generated in the United States. Also known as the Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database, this resource is a key input for tracking local and national progress toward air quality as well as emissions targets in the face of climate change.
The DG+ market research team took the latest eGRID emissions data and created an interactive map to visualize key information for power plants across the country, including annual CO2 emissions, capacity, and fuel type.
In 2021, the total carbon footprint of all the power plants in the eGrid dataset reached nearly 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions. In order for us to meet crucial climate goals, emissions will have to be reduced significantly. In one of many steps taken to address this issue, the Biden administration recently announced plans to implement new regulations on gas plants, requiring that they install carbon capture and storage technology to cut their emissions. Currently, most gas plants do not pay a carbon emissions fee, but new regulations could require as much, making renewable energy technologies like wind and solar even more cost-competitive with carbon-intensive energy generation.
Cost-competitiveness remains a potential catalyst for the continued fruition of renewable energy resources like solar PV and wind power. These technologies, which emit no CO2 when produced, will play a crucial role in the decarbonization of the energy grid. Last year, renewable energy got a huge boost in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which expanded and extended the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) whereby developers can leverage the ITC for up to 30% of the cost of a renewable energy project. The importance of this funding cannot be overstated, as it opens the runway to further renewable energy development and the eventual decarbonization of the energy grid. To fully appreciate the potential that financial clean energy incentives like the ITC hold, it’s helpful to see the state of power plant emissions today.
Read on to learn more about how to use our interactive energy map of eGrid data to better understand the state of carbon emissions in the US:
By using this map, the relative impact of renewable energy technologies in the decarbonization of the energy grid can be viewed in detail. Users can click any point on the map to see a pop up with information on the plant’s capacity, emissions, and fuel type, like the one shown in the image below. Moreover, the size of each plant dot on the map is proportional to its annual CO2 emissions. For example, the Dixie Valley geothermal plant, located in Nevada, has a nameplate capacity of 70.9 megawatts (MW) and emitted just over 56,000 tons of CO2 during 2021.
The drastic difference in the carbon footprint of a wind farm as compared to a coal plant is evident from a quick glance at the size of each plant’s dot:
Despite having relatively the same capacity as the Broken Bow Wind Farm, the Archer Daniels Coal Plant released more than 220,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021.
Users can click around the map to see how different energy types vary in their capacity, CO2 emissions, and use the filter to show or hide power plants depending on their energy type. For example, the image below shows just wind and solar plants across the US.
Regional differences in the types of power plants in service make the US energy grid a bit of a mosaic. In coastal and Midwestern states, where there is abundant exposure to sunlight, large swaths of solar supply a large portion of electricity. Some Midwestern states like Illinois and Minnesota also have policies that support solar growth, which have historically been the greatest catalyst for a strong solar market. Across the Central Plains, a long belt of wind farms stretches from Texas to Iowa. Here, there is ample space for the massive turbines that are required to generate electricity from wind. Plus, these states lie within a belt of high speed winds that whip across the Plains. The Appalachian states see a concentration of coal plants, simply because much of the coal mined in the US comes from those states.
These regional differences have much greater implications beyond their carbon footprint. For example, leaks from oil and gas plants are an environmental liability, contaminating groundwaters and rendering soil toxic and infertile. These spills happen more often than you think, and cleanup costs have topped more than $9 billion since the 90s. In regions where coal plants are prevalent, residents see increased risks to human health because of the airborne particulate matter released from the burning of coal. Thankfully, more and more coal plants are being retired - and virtually no new ones are being built. In some communities, this is happening just as new, clean energy plants are being developed next door.
Despite there being just under 300 coal plants across the US, they actually accounted for 58% of the carbon footprint of the entire energy grid in 2021.
However, while there are more than 4,500 solar projects in the US, with massive stretches of the East and West coasts and the Midwest covered, solar energy produced zero emissions in 2021.
As the US decarbonizes its energy grid, the cumulative emissions associated with energy generation will continue to fall, and the proportion of energy generated with renewable technologies will increase. Thanks to policy initiatives and falling costs, this transition looks posed for continued acceleration.
Click around the new CO2 Emissions of Power Plants in the US map from DG+ and see for yourself the drastic differences in carbon footprints between fossil fuel plants and renewable energy projects. What regional patterns do you see? What sort of energy mix is found in your area?
In addition to this map, the DG+ team has created a suite of maps that explore state EV ownership scores, retail electricity rates, and more as part of the new DG+ Library on our website. Check out the new DG+ Library here.
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