America Will Be Petroleum, Natural Gas Exporter Through 2050, Predicts Energy Information Administration
Nuclear loses, solar gains, electric vehicles stay market minority in long-term projection
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects the United States will remain a net exporter of petroleum and natural gas at least through the middle of this century.
Its 2023 Annual Energy Outlook, released on March 15, credits that trend to “growing international demand.”
Yet, the EIA also projects that zero-carbon nuclear power, natural gas, and coal will provide less of the nation’s power.
In particular, it predicts the amount of generating capacity from coal-fired power plants will continue to tumble down before leveling out in later decades.
The EIA projects that renewables, particularly solar, will meet a larger and larger share of power demand in the coming decades, thanks in part to battery technology and government subsidies.
Nuclear is outcompeted by renewables in every scenario the EIA considered. The agency also assumes carbon capture, utilization, and storage will lose out to wind and solar.
The 2023 outlook predicts a decline through 2050 in carbon dioxide emissions from the United States’ energy sector.
It also predicts that households and commerce will use less energy on average. It attributes this to “consumer behavior,” electrification, and new technology, among other factors.
“An established trend toward warmer winters and population shifts toward warmer and drier areas of the United States reduce energy consumption for space heating in all cases.
“At the same time, the established trend toward warmer summers leads to increasing electricity consumption for space cooling,” the report states.
Inflation Reduction Act a Major Factor
EIA officials introduced the 2023 outlook at an event hosted by the think tank Resources for the Future.
Resources for the Future’s donors include nonprofits such as the Environmental Defense Fund, as well as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and many other government agencies have also funded the think tank.
The EIA’s outlook incorporated some provisions of the 2022 reconciliation bill, also known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The biggest changes from the EIA’s previous outlook flow from the IRA.
“The IRA provides additional incentives to wind and solar power generation, which accelerates the near-term decline of electric power sector coal-fired generating capacity and hastens the timeline for retirement in the U.S. coal fleet,” the outlook report states.
“Clearly, the IRA is driving the differences,” said Assistant Administrator for Energy Analysis Angelina LaRose.
Yet, in many respects, the newest EIA report resembles last year’s outlook.
That report projected nuclear power would decline as a share of U.S. electricity generation.
“U.S. crude oil production reaches record highs, while natural gas production is increasingly driven by natural gas exports,” a March 3, 2022 presentation on last year’s outlook states.
In the months since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, the U.S. rapidly boosted its liquid natural gas exports to Europe, which was previously more dependent on Russia for that resource.
Electric Vehicles Top Out Low
The EIA anticipates that electric vehicles will reach just under 20 percent market share by 2050 in its reference case. Its high oil price scenario bumps that up to a little under 30 percent of market share by mid-century.
Resources for the Future’s Richard Newell asked EIA head Joseph DeCarolis about that projection, in light of recent pledges from automotive companies to boost electric vehicle sales.
In 2021, General Motors and Ford issued a statement on their “shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50 percent of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles [battery electric, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles] by 2030.”
Additionally, California has moved to outlaw the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.
DeCarolis said the outlook does not assume there will be revolutionary breakthroughs in relevant battery technology in the foreseeable future. A major, unexpected innovation could change things.
He also pointed out that California still needs a waiver from the EPA to implement its policy.
States are barred from setting their own emissions standards without such a waiver, thanks to the Clean Air Act.