Green Investments, Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions in the U.S.
Market forces, civil society, policymakers, ESG investors, engaged corporations, and technological innovation led the way in the 7.63 percent reduction of CO2 emissions in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019.
This impressive number hides regional variations that corporate executives, investors, and policymakers must fully understand so the U.S. can maintain its momentum towards achieving public- and private-sector carbon emissions reduction goals by 2030.
Our analysis discusses the need for policymakers and corporate executives alike to incorporate regional emissions variations – from 11 mtCO2 in the Northeast to 20 mtCO2 in the Midwest – into modeling their pathways to achieving overall net-zero emissions commitments.
From 2010 to 2019, all U.S. regions and most U.S. states reduced their carbon emissions.
The most significant emissions percent reduction happened in the Northeast and the Midwest.
There is a story behind the numbers, a story that describes significant regional variations, risks, and opportunities that policymakers, corporations, and investors alike must address for the U.S. to continue its emissions reduction trajectory.
To understand the details better, Responsible Alpha mapped per capita numbers to control for population allowing for comparisons across U.S. regions and states of considerably different population sizes. The emissions reduction achievements are instructive of perhaps less appreciated challenges to achieving declared targets of emissions reductions across a diverse nation, with discrete communities, industries, sources of energy, and opportunities for renewable energy expansion.
The average metric tons per capita of CO2 emitted annually between 2010 and 2019 illustrate these regional differences across the U.S.
While the Midwest achieved the most significant percent reduction of emissions of any region due to coal plant retirements, shifting industrial capacity, and expansion of wind, it still accounted for a quarter of all U.S. CO2 emissions over the last decade while only having 20 percent of the national population.
Further reviewing the data, even within the Midwest region, the CO2 emissions reduction was uneven over the past decade.
On the one hand, the expansion of the Bakken shale gas exploration and production in North Dakota and South Dakota explains these two states' significant increase in CO2 emissions over the past decade.
On the other hand, Iowa is an instructive case of how primarily embracing wind led Iowa to reduce its CO2 emissions significantly. According to American Clean Power Association, renewable energy supplies 58 percent of Iowa’s electrical grid, the best in the nation. It ranks third nationally for storage capacity and capital invested at $28 billion.
Yet despite these renewable energy infrastructure assets, Iowa remains above both the Midwest region and U.S. national averages of per capita CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2019. It is important to note that the state’s CO2 emissions data does not include methane emissions.
What are energy-related CO2 emissions?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “The term energy-related CO2 emissions, as used in these tables, refers to emissions released at the location where fossil fuels are consumed. Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions vary significantly across states, on both an absolute basis and on a per capita basis. Total state CO2 emissions include CO2 emissions from direct fuel use across all sectors, including residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation, as well as primary fuels consumed for electricity generation.”
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What do these regional trends in the U.S. mean for investors, corporations, and policymakers?
Responsible Alpha’s analysis demonstrates that constructing an economy based on renewable energy – from generation to transmission to storage – must be accompanied by further efficiency and emission reduction improvements. A renewable energy economy must also require firms to transparently measure, manage, and monitor their Scope 2 and 3 emissions.
What are Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse (GhG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles). Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. Although Scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where they are generated, they are accounted for in an organization’s GHG inventory because they are a result of the organization’s energy use.
Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within an organization’s scope 1 and 2 boundary. The scope 3 emissions for one organization are the scope 1 and 2 emissions of another organization. Scope 3 emissions, also referred to as value chain emissions, often represent the majority of an organization’s total GHG emissions.
What about investors?
Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia vs. EPA, investors may be increasingly vital in leading the U.S. transition to a low-carbon, sustainable, and equitable future.
As noted by the American Clean Power Association, more than $400 billion of private capital have been funneled into renewable energy projects in the U.S. through March 2022. This number must reach $100 billion annually to reach a national 90 percent clean energy grid by 2035.
Capital markets investment has far outpaced federal dollars. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds several rural development energy programs that focus on renewables. The programs include grants, guaranteed loans, and payments supporting renewable energy financing. Yet, the amount is small relative to private investments, totaling just under $7 billion between 2010 and 2019, roughly the equivalent of private capital invested in Michigan and far less than the $23 billion invested in Iowa.
What can investors do to integrate ESG into their investment strategies?
Investors should consider the following when evaluating opportunities to invest in the energy sector to ensure they integrate ESG into their decision-making processes. TCFD tools are readily available and support integrated scenario analysis.
Assess Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions data and commitments by energy firms to ensure full disclosure of their carbon footprint.
Question company directors and executives about their concrete plans and pathways to achieve publicly declared carbon emission reductions by 2030. If no such commitments exist, question why these firms have not announced any.
Review forecast capital expenditures by energy companies to understand how their pathways to a low carbon, sustainable, and equitable future may impact their investment and financial performance ratios over the long term.
Integrate information from SEC filings or directly from directors and executives on how they engage and support fenceline communities as fully recognized stakeholders consulted about current and future operations as they may impact these communities and their livelihoods.
Scrutinize the social impact firms anticipate having in these communities, such as drought-proof land-lease payments.
Ascertain whether executive compensation packages provide the appropriate incentives for long-term growth and sustained commitment that enable transparent pathways to a low-carbon, sustainable, and equitable future, in line with public- and private-sector 2030 emissions reduction commitments.
Integrated U.S. regional CO2 emissions trends, risks, and opportunities into overall corporate strategy.
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All data is sourced from the United States Census Bureau, United States Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, and American Clean Power Association. Data was accessed in July 2022. Data from the American Clean Power Association is through Q1 2022. Data accessed for the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. EIA, and USDA is from 2010-2019. Data used is only aggregated publicly available information.
The per capita values are calculated by dividing data values by population values from the Census Bureau.
The CO2 values used are energy-related CO2 emissions, referring to emissions released at the location where fossil fuels are consumed. Total state CO2 emissions include CO2 emissions from direct fuel use across all sectors, including residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation, as well as primary fuels consumed for electricity generation. Sectors include coal, natural gas, and petroleum products. The methodology of this data can be found here: https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/state/pdf/statemethod.pdf
Suggested citation: S. Hyland, X. Shen, C. Chen, and G. Thoumi, “Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions in the U.S.,” ResponsibleAlpha.com, 12 July 2022, https://www.responsiblealpha.com/emissions-and-investment-map