The Energy Information Administration (EIA)
The EIA, part of the U.S. Government, compiles and projects statistical data on energy production and consumption. Among the EIA’s many regular publications, the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) and the International Energy Outlook (IEO) are probably the most comprehensive. The 2016 editions of both publications have recently become available (for free). This post draws on both.
Both publications project data out to 2040. The basic set of projections is labeled the “reference case”. The reference case is a “business as usual” case that projects current trends in view of government demographic projections (like population projections), financial projections (like GDP and inflation rates) and laws / regulations already in place. The reference case does not anticipate technical break-throughs, other than those necessary to meet established laws or regulations. For example, the reference case projects that new automobiles will meet the fuel consumption levels required by the existing C.A.F.E. regulations in the years to 2025, never mind how, technically, that is accomplished.
Fueling Our Past – and Future
The graph labeled “Energy Consumption in the United States (1776-2040)” is from the home page of the EIA’s website (www.eia.gov). Comments:
>> Energy consumption is measured in quadrillion BTUs (“Quads”). One quad is a heck of a lot of energy. As the graph indicates, all of the hydroelectric dams in the U.S., taken together, produce only about 3 Quads annually. Over recent years, the total energy consumption in the U.S. has been around 100 Quads per year.
>> As you can see, the AEO 2016 reference case projects that, over the next 25 years, about 12 Quads of energy from coal will be replaced with an almost equal amount of energy from natural gas. This would cut the use of coal as fuel in this country by about half between now and 2040.
>> Energy production from petroleum is projected to remain almost constant through 2040.
>> Renewable energy (“other renewables”), especially solar energy, is projected to increase rapidly, to almost 10 Quads by 2040. Still, 10 Quads are projected to be less than 10% of the U.S. total energy consumption in 2040.
Energy Consumption Trends
The green line on the graph labeled “Total Energy” projects that total energy consumption in the U.S. will increase slowly between now and 2040. Total energy production (blue line), however, is projected to increase somewhat faster. That means that the U.S. will swing from being a net importer of energy to becoming a net exporter of energy about ten years from now. This, if it happens, will be great news.
In my view, the America’s chronic international trade deficit in petroleum has been a huge burden on the U.S. economy. The improvement in U.S. petroleum production rates over the last few years has dramatically lowered world petroleum prices. Those lower prices have resulted in many fewer U.S. dollars going abroad to pay for fuel, and in a nice chunk of change for everybody with every tank full. Moreover, I regard these improvements as the major causal factor in the recovery (such as it is) in the U.S. economy over the last two years.
But wait, there’s more. America’s international relations and foreign policies over the last several decades have been excessively influenced by the need to assure safe access to imported energy, especially petroleum.
So, better global and domestic economics, plus considerably more latitude in foreign relations (including military affairs) – would be great news indeed for America!
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Concerns about global warming / climate change / carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been at the forefront of Sustainability issues in recent years. This graph uses figures from the IEO to project reference case annual carbon dioxide emissions through 2040. As you can see, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise over the coming years.
This is in sharp contradiction to almost everything we hear from the media and elsewhere. To be clear: given the “business as usual” conditions upon which the reference case is constructed, carbon dioxide emissions are not going to decline in the coming years. Net reductions in CO2 emissions will require significant changes in policies and / or technologies, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.
Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.
… Chuck Harrington
This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.