Fossil fuels—primarily natural gas—will dominate the energy sector over the next 50 years, while renewables—mainly solar and wind power— will continue their upward trajectory before leveling off mid-century, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA).
At EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook released Jan. 24, EIA Administrator Linda Capuano said 2020 will mark the first time in nearly 70 years that the United States will be a net exporter of energy. This shift is a result of now well-established trends, Capuano said, which include the prevalence of cheap natural gas, the increase in liquified natural gas exports, and booming production of crude oil and other petroleum products. “The U.S. has become the largest producer of crude oil in the world, and growth in domestic oil, natural gas and renewable energy production is quickly establishing the United States as a strong global energy producer for the foreseeable future,” she said.
In EIA’s Reference Case scenario, which is based on laws and regulations currently in effect, natural gas is expected to maintain is leading share of electricity generation and continue to grow, increasing from 34% in 2018 to 39% in 2050. The outlook provides a range of scenarios for energy production and consumption,
U.S. crude oil production is expected to remain above 14 million barrels per day through 2040, according to the outlook. Renewable generation is projected to increase from 18% in 2018 to 31% in 2050, surpassing coal and nuclear in less than a decade. The sector’s growth will primarily be in solar and wind power generation, EIA says.
Colette Honorable, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner, said during a panel discussion following the outlook’s release that she was “heartened” by the outlook’s projections. “With the onslaught of the renewables that we will see, we need that gas,” as well as infrastructure to support natural gas production, including pipelines, powerplants, and LNG terminals, she said.
But not everyone cheered the news. “When you read the report, you realize that absent swift and aggressive policy action, we are far from achieving the carbon reductions needed to curtail climate change,” Steve Clemmer, director of energy research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview. He said while CO2 emissions from the power sector have gone down over the past several years, emissions will level out due to an increased reliance on natural gas and the phaseout of federal tax credits for renewable power generation.
He added that this year’s report departed from usual practice and did not include projections for total energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. “From a climate perspective, it’s critical to know how many tons are being released and how much we need to reduce emissions over time. While this data is available online, it begs the question of why the EIA left this essential information out.”