Article by:
Nikki Chi
February 21, 2023
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Ever Wondered What the Largest CO2 Emitting Sources are in the US?

Many people are motivated to reduce their individual carbon footprint, but have you ever wondered what the largest CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitting sources are in the US? If you have, a good place to start is understanding the difference between CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHG). CO2 is one of many greenhouse gases. However, CO2 is a pretty big deal as far as greenhouse gases go. In 2020, CO2 accounted for 79% of all GHG emissions for the year. But, there are several more. For example, you may have heard that agriculture is a big contributor to climate change, but it’s not the top source of CO2. Agriculture releases a combination of nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide. In this post, we’ll talk about both CO2 and greenhouse gases.

What Industries are the Primary Sources of Greenhouse Gases in the US?

When broken down by industry, our greenhouse gas production looks like this:

  • 27% from the transportation sector - This is mostly caused by heavy reliance on fossil fuels for cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships. In fact, over 90% of the fuel used is petroleum based.
  • 25% from electricity production - Again, this is due to widespread fossil fuel dependence, as about 60% of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels.
  • 24% from the industrial sector - These GHG emissions are mostly from fossil fuels for energy, but some of them are a result of chemical reactions in the processing of raw materials.
  • 13% from commercial and residential - Businesses and homes generate greenhouse gases by using fossil fuels for heat, using other products that contain GHGs, and through waste management.
  • 11% from agriculture - Livestock, soils, and production processes all contribute to the agriculture sector’s emissions.

You may have noticed a trend here: The common factor creating the emissions across almost every industry is fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and petroleum. In fact, fossil fuels were the source of 73% of all the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2020!

What Can We Do About Fossil Fuels?

In a perfect world, we could all go 100% to renewable energy. While many organizations are setting goals for sustainability and carbon neutrality, there are some basic things to do on the way there. For starters, not all fossil fuels are created equal. Fossil fuels with a higher hydrogen content will produce less CO2. For example, natural gas is mostly CH4, which is a high hydrogen content. Burning natural gas to generate energy produces half the amount of CO2 as burning coal to generate the same amount of energy. So, if an industry can’t make a complete switch to renewable energy, it can at least switch to an option that generates less CO2. Coal is the first fossil fuel to avoid, as it is the cause of 59% of the electric power sector’s CO2 emissions.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Greenhouse Gases

As awareness and education on the impact of greenhouse gases have spread, both individuals and industries have started the journey of reducing our emissions. US greenhouse gas emissions have actually decreased since 1990, but only by 7%. The total emissions fluctuate annually based on the price of fuel, the state of the economy, or, in 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. When you compare 2020’s US greenhouse gas emissions to those of 2019, they decreased 11%! Considering that we’ve only decreased our emissions by 7% in the 20-year span from 1990 to 2020, it’s incredible to consider that 2019 to 2020 had such a massive drop. This was largely due to the decrease in travel and other transportation emissions, as well as a small decrease in electricity demand.

How We are Continuing to do Our Part

Over the last 150 years, humans are responsible for nearly all of the increased greenhouse gases. Considering that fossil fuels play such a major role in greenhouse gases, that’s a great place to start reducing our impact. Individuals can make simple switches like buying more local products, carpooling, biking, walking, or taking public transportation. Homeowners can consider their options for renewable energy, whether that is rooftop solar panels or joining a shared solar program. Since they don’t own their roof, families who rent a home or multifamily unit have fewer options for renewable energy. However, Ivy Energy’s Virtual Grid software is bringing fair and equal access to clean energy to multifamily residents. While 12% of single-family homes in California have solar power, only 1% of multifamily housing has adopted solar energy. So far, over 42.5 million pounds of coal have been avoided through multifamily communities using Ivy! We are committed to continuing to do our part to reduce multifamily properties’ reliance on fossil fuels and help reduce CO2 emissions in the US.