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Power Plants and Their Impact on Earth's Climate

Power Plants and Climate Change:

The generation of electricity accounts for approximately 32% of 2012 greenhouse gas emissions, according to the US EPA. This makes electricity production the source of the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. Over 70% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas.

Types of greenhouse gases produced

Carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions from the sector, but smaller amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are also emitted. These gases are released during the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, to produce electricity. Less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions from the sector come from sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), an insulating chemical used in electricity transmission and distribution equipment. (Source: EPA )

Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Type of Fuel

  • Coal:
    Coal combustion is generally more carbon intensive than burning natural gas or petroleum for electricity. Although coal accounts for about 75% of CO2 emissions from the sector, it represents about 39% of the electricity generated in the United States.

  • Natural gas (Methane)
    About 29% of electricity generated in 2012 was generated using natural gas, and this percentage has grown in recent years. Natural gas is one of the cleanest fossil fuels.

  • Petroleum
    Oil accounts for less than 1% of electricity generation. It burns cleaner than coal, but not as cleanly as natural gas.

  • Nuclear
    About 20% of electricity generated in the US comes from Nuclear Power plants. And despite the fears of meltdowns, nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gases.

  • Renewable sources
    Windmills, hydroelectric corn ethanol, soloar panels, etc, account for about 12% of eletric power generation in the nited States. These other sources usually release fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel combustion, if any emissions at all.

As greenhouse gas emissions frompower plants increase, they build up in the atmosphere and warm the climate, leading to many other changes around the world-in the atmosphere, on land, and in the oceans.


  1. Learn About Carbon Pollution From Power Plants - EPA, In 2009, EPA determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans' health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects on human health and the environment. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 84% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.