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Reality Check: Obama Administration Forecasts Bright Future For Fossil Fuels

Mark J. Perry, AEIdeas

Despite Obama’s claims, his Department of Energy forecasts suggest that fossil fuels are the energy sources of the future.


President Obama has frequently promoted renewable energy sources, and said during his 2012 campaign that “We’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.” By “investments” Obama most likely means massive “taxpayer-funded subsidies” for wind, solar and biofuels. At the same time, Obama has often dismissed fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past.” But according to projections from Obama’s Department of Energy, the reality is much different –  fossil fuels will continue be America’s dominant source of energy for at least the next quarter century, while renewables, even with taxpayer life support, will continue to play a relatively minor role as an energy source for the US.

Here’s what the Department of Energy reported on its website last week:

While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but thepredominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.

MP: The chart above illustrates the importance of fossil fuels to America as an energy source — in the past, today, and in the future. Over almost a one-hundred year period from 1948 to 2040, fossil fuels have provided, and will continue to provide, the vast majority of America’s energy by far (based on Department of Energy data herehere and here). Last year, fossil fuels provided almost 84% of America’s energy, which was nearly unchanged from the 85% fossil fuel energy share twenty years ago in the early 1990s. Even more than a quarter of a century from now in 2040, the Department of Energy forecasts that fossil fuels will still be the nation’s dominant energy source, providing more than 80% of our energy needs. So, despite President Obama’s dismissal of fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past,” the Department of Energy’s own forecasts tell a much different story of an energy future where fossil fuels serve as the dominant energy source to power our vehicles, heat and light our homes, and fuel the US economy.

Further, President Obama says we should “invest” in “energy sources of the future” – renewables like solar, biofuels and wind — instead of focusing on oil. But again, the Department of Energy’s forecasts tell a much different story. Even after “investing” billions of dollars in government taxpayer subsidies in renewable energy already, those sources provided only 7.5% of America’s energy last year, which was actually less than the 9.3% share of renewables in 1948, more than 60 years ago – that’s not a lot of progress for the politically-popular, taxypayer-subsidized renewables. When it comes to solar and wind, those energy sources provided only 1.8% of America’s energy last year – an almost insignificant amount. Even in 2040, more than a quarter century from now, solar and wind together will account for only 3.6% of America’s energy, according to the Department of Energy forecasts, and all renewables together will provide less than 11% of the nation’s energy.

Bottom Line: The economic and scientific reality, according to Obama’s Energy Department, is that abundant, low-cost fossil fuels will continue to dominate the US fuel mix for at least the next quarter century, and probably much, much longer into the future. Meanwhile, politics aside – the economic and scientific reality according to the Energy Department is that renewable sources of energy will continue to play a minor role in America’s energy mix. In 2040, the Energy Department’s projected 10.8% share for renewables will be almost inconsequentially different from the 9.3% share in 1948. In other words, the Energy Department’s not expecting a lot of progress for renewable energies as a fuel source for America, even after almost 100 years of efforts from politicians like Obama and billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars.

AEIdeas, 9 July 2013