Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Fossil fuels will still dominate U.S. energy usage in 2040

by Matt Rosenberg December 6th, 2012

In 2040 almost four-fifths of the energy the United States uses will be from the fossil fuels of oil, coal or natural gas. That’s just a bit less than last year but natural gas – seen by some as greener than oil or coal – will play a larger role in that mix, and coal and oil less. And by 2040 more than a tenth of the nation’s energy supply will come from renewables such as hydropower, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power, and wave motion. That would be a good dollop more than the eight percent share for renewables in 2011.

These are some of recent facts and future projections in the baseline or “reference case” case scenario for the Annual Energy Outlook 2013 Early Release presented in a a Washington, D.C. briefing yesterday by Adam Sieminski, the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s data and forecasting unit, called the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The new Outlook’s base case assumes no game-changers are introduced in coming years such as a carbon tax that could dramatically incentivize renewables, but does includes some prudent expectations about emerging commercial technologies in the energy sector that affect production and consumption.

From Annual Energy Outlook 2013 - Early Release Reference Case, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy

Energy usage in the U.S. by 2040 by sector will have redistributed itself somewhat, according to the 2013 Outlook’s reference case projections – with industrial, commercial and residential usage of electricity and other forms of energy growing as a proportion of the whole, and the share of energy used for transportation shrinking.

The Outlook’s drill-down into transportation energy usage shows fairly robust long-term growth in vehicle miles traveled over the next several decades, in the neighborhood of 40 percent. But that is counterbalanced by a near-doubling in light vehicle fuel efficiency due to federally-mandated improvements in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to which automakers are subject. The result, at least according to the 2013 Outlook’s base-case projection, is for literally no growth in actual energy usage within the U.S. transportation sector even as vehicle miles traveled grow significantly.

Total energy consumption in the U.S. will have grown modestly at an average annual rate of four-tenths of one percent to 2035, according to more of the new report’s detailed statistical projections. In terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, another Energy Information Administration report, the International Energy Outlook, makes clear the challenge is greatest not in developed nations, but in the developing world. In the latest, 2011, version of that report, a table on global carbon dioxide emissions by nation shows that the developed nations of the world, belonging to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, are expected to have relatively flat growth in Co2 output going forward to 2035. However there are projected to be much sharper Co2 increases in non-OECD, or developing nations such as China in particular and also India.

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