Lead Author:
Peter J. Marcotullio, Hunter College, City University of New York
Contributing Authors:
Lori Bruhwiler, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory
Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine
Jill Engel-Cox, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
John Field, Colorado State University
Conor Gately, Boston University
Kevin Robert Gurney, Northern Arizona University
Daniel M. Kammen, University of California, Berkeley
Emily McGlynn, University of California, Davis
James McMahon, Better Climate Research and Policy Analysis
William R. Morrow, III, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Ilissa B. Ocko, Environmental Defense Fund
Ralph Torrie, Canadian Energy Systems Analysis and Research Initiative
Expert Reviewer:
Sam Baldwin, DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Science Lead:
Paty Romero-Lankao, National Center for Atmospheric Research (currently at National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Review Editor:
Emily J. Pindilli, U.S. Geological Survey
Federal Liaison:
Nancy Cavallaro, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Energy Systems

This chapter assesses the contribution of the North American energy system to the global carbon cycle, including the identification of pathways to greater energy efficiency with lower emissions. The system—defined by energy-related activities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States—includes primary energy sources; the infrastructure to extract, transport, convert, transmit, distribute, and use these resources; and the socioeconomic and political structures and dynamics associated with these processes (Romero-Lankao et al., 2014). This definition is larger and more inclusive of socioeconomic and political components than that offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; Bruckner et al., 2014). The assessment presented in this chapter includes quantitative indicators of energy use and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions from different energy system components since 2003, as well as quantitative and qualitative analysis of the changes in system dynamics, technologies, and costs for an average global warming of less than 2°C. Coverage includes 2004 to 2013, although in some cases updates to 2017 are also provided. (For a more extensive description of CO2e, see Box P.2 in the Preface).1

An important source of CO2e emissions for the continent and the world, the North American energy system in 2013 was responsible for approximately 1.76 petagrams of carbon (Pg C), or 20% of global energy-related emissions (EIA 2016c).2 From 2004 to 2013, the system experienced significant changes that have affected the North American contribution to CO2e emissions. These changes include alterations to the fossil fuel mix, increases in renewable energy sources, advances in production efficiencies, an economic shock from the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007 to 2008, changing fuel prices, and changing carbon management policies. These trends and drivers of change may continue to influence energy-related carbon emissions in the coming decades.

The historical context for North American energy use and CO2e emissions is described in Section 3.2, emphasizing dynamics associated with previous large fluctuations in carbon emissions. Section 3.3 details the state of the energy system as of 2013, including 1) an overview of energy infrastructure; 2) overall energy resources and uses; 3) technologies to increase efficiency and reduce emissions such as total CO2e emissions, by economy; and 4) end use (e.g., buildings, industry, and transportation) and secondary energy use (electricity). Section 3.4 discusses five important patterns and dynamics of the North American energy system that have emerged since the First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR1; CCSP 2007). Section 3.5 places the North American energy system in a global context, in terms of both energy use and CO2e, while Section 3.6 presents an examination of drivers, based on the Kaya Identity.3 Governmental policy drivers, including carbon management decisions, are the focus of Section 3.7 followed by a comparison in Section 3.8 of selected recent scenario results to 2040 and 2050 of energy use and CO2e emissions for the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican economies including projections as well as exploratory and backcasting approaches. The final section (Section 3.9) synthesizes the information, identifies knowledge gaps, and summarizes key challenges.

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