Carnegie Mellon University

Power Sector Carbon Index Finds GHG Intensity Down 4%, With Solar Up 30% in Q4 of 2020

The Power Sector Carbon Index was created by the Scott Institute to track the progress of the United States’ transition to cleaner electricity generation. The index represents a ratio of all the carbon emissions created by electricity generation in comparison to the total amount of electricity generated during that period. The project uses public data to create monthly, quarterly, and yearly values, illustrating changes in the carbon intensity of US electricity generation over time.

The most recent report found that the US saw a 4 percent decrease in carbon dioxide generated per unit of energy (CO2per MWh) in the fourth quarter of 2020, in comparison to that period the year prior. Compared to the benchmark year of 2005, the US has decreased its carbon intensity of electricity by 39 percent.

The index also provides a quick look at trends in electricity generation in the US. This most recent report found that coal-generated power was down by 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the prior year and nuclear generation saw a small decrease; while generation from renewables like hydro and wind saw increases. Solar generation saw the greatest change, increasing by 30 percent.

“The Scott Institute’s Power Sector Carbon Index enables policymakers, businesses, and the public to quickly get a snapshot of the climate performance of the power sector, and how the grid is changing”, said Costa Samaras, a Scott Institute Fellow and Co-Director of the Index.