The United States is the leader in many respects, but in the new 2022, the country entered into a rather unexpected incarnation for many. International organizations for the protection of the environment are extremely disappointed: the United States, in its attempts to restore the economy and exit the pandemic, is moving further and further from the declared goals of decarbonization.
It is estimated that cumulative emissions of all types of greenhouse gases in America rose by almost seven percent in the past year, driven by the dramatic rise in the role of fossil hydrocarbon fuels, namely natural gas and coal. The data are still preliminary, but already now they cause sadness in the hearts of all fans of alternative energy – even despite the increased share of renewable energy sources in the US energy balance.
Two years of the pandemic came as a shock to the global economy, brought discomfort and significantly reshaped the lives of billions of people, but for the apologists of the green transition, it was a period of sheer pure happiness. In 2019-2020, the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States fell to historic lows for the entire observation period, that is, it was comparable to the period immediately after the end of World War II. Even 2021, with its feverish efforts to correct the economic drawdown, was not a disaster, with emissions still five percent lower than in the years before the global pandemic.
Everything went as well as possible. For the first time in the history of the United States, the share of alternative generation amounted to a fifth of production, that is, about 820 terawatt-hours per year and equaled in this indicator with the nuclear sector – and the United States, we recall, is the most atomic country in the world. As of October last year, ninety-three reactors were in technical armament there. For comparison: the second country in this indicator – France – has almost half as many, only 56 power units. It requires a mandatory clarification that the Americans include hydropower in the segment of renewable sources, along with wind, sun and biomass. US hydroelectric power plants provide at least six percent of all electricity, and the state’s Energy Information Administration predicts at least another one percent increase in hydropower-based production.
The positive news did not end there. The owners of the wind and solar plants have announced that they plan to commission production facilities of 29 and 28 gigawatts in 2022 and 2023, respectively. In fact, we are talking about doubling the potential – but this is where all the pleasant trends end.
If you carefully read the report of the Energy Information Administration, then all the bravura reports related to the rejection of hydrocarbons are in the nature of plans, expectations and hopes. But the preliminary figures for the results of the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels are a physical fact that passed through the furnaces of boiler houses into every house in the form of electricity and heat.
Indicators of the past fiscal year will be published as standard in February, but it is already clear that coal production in the United States has jumped up. According to the most conservative estimates, American miners produced ten percent more coal than in 2020, that is, a net increase in production amounted to somewhere between 55-60 million tons.
The extracted black gold did not dissolve into thin air. The production of electricity based on coal, which had previously fallen and recently caught up with the nuclear sector and renewable energy sources, again went into the lead, almost reaching 1000 terawatt-hours. Along the way, the indicators of coal exports jumped up (plus 52 percent), the lion’s share of which went to Asia , namely, to buyers from India, South Korea and Japan .
The United States has not yet commented on the decision of the United Nations to recognize nuclear energy as environmentally friendly, but local environmentalists are ready to do this on their own. To their sadness, the fleet of nuclear reactors in America is rapidly aging without clear prospects for the commissioning of new facilities. The last project approved by both chambers of Congress for the construction of the Vogtle nuclear power plant dates back to 2012, the plant is considered the only one in the country under construction, but there is no news on the project.
Along the way, the fact is once again confirmed that it is simply impossible to replace classical energy sources with wind turbines and panels. For example, in the US state of North Dakota and the neighboring Canadian province of Alberta, due to severe frosts, the Keystone oil pipeline was stopped, the same one that was going to close Joe Biden by his decree . Record negative temperatures down to minus 35 degrees forced the owners of the pipeline, TC Energy, to stop pumping oil products, which immediately caused market fainting and a local rise in gasoline and diesel prices.
But the most significant growth was shown by the production and consumption of natural gas. Over the past fifteen years, its share in the production of electricity for the needs of the US population has doubled, but here you just need to understand the scale of the growth. If in 2005 generating companies produced 750 terawatt-hours on the basis of natural gas, then in 2021 its share is expected to reach 1,600 terawatt-hours. This is the same as nuclear and green energy combined. UNBy the way, natural gas is also going to be included in the list of safe sources, with which modern greens strongly disagree – and here they have every reason to be dissatisfied. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2019, gas production, production of fuels and derivatives, and leaks from decommissioned wells accounted for a third of all methane emissions in the United States. The same methane that heats the atmosphere about fifty times more than other greenhouse gases.
Well, the last nail in dreams of a carbon-free future was statistics on personal and other vehicles. As soon as the strict quarantine was lifted in the States, companies rushed to make up for lost profits, which led to an unprecedented boom in trucking. Last year ended at record growth in greenhouse and other gas emissions from trucks, the main driver of American logistics. More than thirty percent of all national emissions, an increase of ten percent at once compared to the previous year.
I could not sweeten the pill and the gift from the current American administration. In November, the government passed a law allowing the construction of technical facilities to capture carbon from the atmosphere for its subsequent proper disposal. It is planned to allocate three and a half billion dollars from the budget for these needs.
We are talking about two technologies. The first is the so-called direct air capture, and the second is called capture and storage.
The first involves the installation of giant fans that will pump air into special tanks, where carbon will be bound with the help of special chemical solutions, and the rest of the gases will be released back into the atmosphere. Then the resulting mixture will be heated to release pure CO 2 , mixed with aqueous solutions, crystallized and buried in the ground.
The second method was discovered back in the 70s of the last century, when oil workers began to pump carbon dioxide into depleted wells, thus displacing additional volumes of the precious liquid. It was found that some of the gas remains in the underground voids, however, no one can say for sure how this affects the state of the environment as a whole. This fact, by the way, at one time did not allow the Norwegian company Equinor ASA to avoid paying environmental tax, citing the fact that carbon dioxide was sealed in natural salt cavities underground.
It is believed that in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, humanity must already start capturing and utilizing at least 7.5 billion tons of gases a year tomorrow, that is, at least one fifth of the volume produced by human civilization. At the same time, at the current moment, even according to the most optimistic forecasts, no more than 40 million tons of carbon is extracted from the atmosphere, that is, only about 0.01 percent. Moreover, today there is not a single industrial and, most importantly, economically justified technology for capturing CO 2 , that is, the law passed by Congress is nothing more than a fiction designed to mask the failure of the American environmental agenda in the new economic realities.
In conclusion, we can state one obvious fact. If it is still possible to discuss the decline of American influence in the world political arena, then Washington ‘s complete and unconditional fiasco in the fight against global warming is a fait accompli. And this must be remembered when we are once again accused of unwillingness to fight for a bright carbon-free future.