Skip to content

Reality Check: Fossil Fuels, Not Renewables, Are The Energy Sources Of America’s Future

Mark Perry, Carpe Diem

The chart above is based on energy projections through the year 2050 released today by the Energy Information Administration in its Annual Energy Outlook report for 2018. Here’s a summary:

EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook provides modeled projections of domestic energy markets through 2050, and it includes cases with different assumptions regarding macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, technological progress, and energy policies. Strong domestic production coupled with relatively flat energy demand allow the United States to become a net energy exporter over the projection period in most cases. In the Reference case, natural gas consumption grows the most on an absolute basis, and nonhydroelectric renewables grow the most on a percentage basis.

The EIA provides a description of its Reference case on page 9 of the full report:

  • The Reference case projection assumes trend improvement in known technologies along with a view of economic and demographic trends reflecting the current views of leading economic forecasters and demographers.
  • The Reference case generally assumes that current laws and regulations affecting the energy sector, including sunset dates for laws that have them, are unchanged throughout the projection period.
  • The potential impacts of proposed legislation, regulations, and standards are not included.
  • EIA addresses the uncertainty inherent in energy projections by developing side cases with different assumptions of macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, technological progress, and energy policies.
  • Projections in the AEO should be interpreted with a clear understanding of the assumptions that inform them and the limitations inherent in any modeling effort.

Based on the Reference case, the chart above shows that EIA projections assume that fossil fuels (crude oil, coal, and natural gas) will continue supplying about 80% of America’s energy for the next 32 years through 2050, falling just slightly below 80% starting in 2034, but still providing more than 79% of the energy supplied in 2050. Nuclear’s share of total energy will gradually fall from 8.4% this year to slightly above 6% in 2050, while all renewables together (conventional hydroelectric, geothermal, wood and wood waste, biogenic municipal waste, other biomass, wind, photovoltaic, and solar thermal sources) will supply less than 15% of America’s energy a generation from now when today’s teenagers are middle-aged by mid-century. That’s not a lot of progress for what President Obama called the “energy sources of the future,” while dismissing fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past.”

Bottom Line: Despite all of the hype, hope, cheerleading, fuel standards, portfolio standards, and taxpayer subsidies for renewable energies like wind and solar, America’s energy future will still rely primarily on fossil fuels to power our vehicles, heat and light our homes, and fuel the US economy. In other words, America’s energy future will look a lot like it does today with fossil fuels providing American consumers and businesses with low-cost, dependable and reliable energy for about 80% of our energy needs.

Full post