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Case Study

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Does where I live make a difference in my personal GHG emissions?

The analysis of electricity generation and associated greenhouse gas emissions is completed here for upstate New York (NYUP) and Denver CO.

New York State has abundant water resources and relies heavily on major rivers (Niagara, St. Lawrence) and many smaller rivers for hydroelectric power.  There are also several nuclear power plants that operate with nearly negligible greenhouse gas emissions.  NYS clearly relies less on fossil fuel, especially coal, with less than 50% of the percentage that coal contributes to our National electricity mix and far less than use in Denver (Figure 1).  Nuclear (~28%) and hydroelectric power (25%) are much more important in NYS. Denver is close to the coal-rich state of Wyoming.

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Figure 1: Electricity generation mix in upstate NY and Denver versus the National average
(2007 values from the U.S. EPA power Profiler)

These differences in the electricity generation mix show up in terms of GHG emissions.  The National average (587 kg CO2/MWh) is nearly twice as high as the NYS emissions factor (310 kg CO2/MWh). Denver’s emission factor (865 kg CO2/MWh) is 2.8 times as high as NYS. The U.S. Power Profiler reports CO2 emissions from the stack.  Other GHGs and lifecycle impacts are not included in these values.  Because NYS electricity generation mix is relative low on the CO2 production scale, there could be less driving force to reduce these emissions.  These state or regional values are used in most personal carbon calculators.  Thus, someone in NYS who uses a lot of electricity might not see the same need to reduce their electricity consumption as someone in Colorado or Nebraska (emission factor > 800 kg CO2/MWh), where nearly all of the electricity is generated from coal. But because NYS uses a lot of electricity as a whole, there is still a concern and still a significant need to reduce electricity related GHGs. 

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Figure 2: Comparison of regional electricity emission factors for CO2