Projected Growth in Small-Scale, Fossil-Fueled Distributed Generation: Potential Implications for the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Research output: NRELPresentation


The generation capacity of small-scale (less than one megawatt) fossil-fueled electricity in the United States is anticipated to grow by threefold to twenty-fold from 2015 to 2040. However, in adherence with internationally agreed upon carbon accounting methods, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) U.S. Greenhouse Inventory (GHGI) does not currently attribute greenhouse gases (GHGs) from these small-scale distributed generation sources to the electric power sector and instead accounts for these emissions in the sector that uses the distributed generation (e.g., the commercial sector). In addition, no other federal electric-sector GHG emission data product produced by the EPA or the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) can attribute these emissions to electricity. We reviewed the technical documentation for eight federal electric-sector GHG emission data products, interviewed the data product owners, collected their GHG emission estimates, and analyzed projections for growth in fossil-fueled distributed generation. We show that, by 2040, these small-scale generators could account for at least about 1%- 5% of total CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric power sector. If these emissions fall outside the electric power sector, the United States may not be able to completely and accurately track changes in electricity-related CO2 emissions, which could impact how the country sets GHG reduction targets and allocates mitigation resources. Because small-scale, fossil-fueled distributed generation is expected to grow in other countries as well, the results of this work also have implications for global carbon accounting.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages32
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2017 International Emissions Inventory Conference, 14-18 August 2017, Baltimore, Maryland

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-68965


  • accounting
  • electric power
  • GHG
  • greenhouse gases
  • inventory
  • projections
  • small generators
  • United States


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