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EIA’s Most Important Insights About Our Energy Future

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its biannual International Energy Outlook on Thursday, finding that through 2040, at least, fossil fuels will remain king, despite rapid growth in renewable energy sources.

The report projects that world economic output will increase by 3.6 percent per year, and world energy use will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040. Half of that increase will take place in just two countries — China and India. 

The graphic below shows just how much of the global growth in energy use will come from China, with the projection that by 2040, China’s energy use will soar to be twice that of the U.S.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: EIA.

While renewable energy sources and nuclear power will be the fastest growing energy sources through 2040, the report calculates that fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, will still comprise 80 percent of world energy use.

Of the renewable energy sources, the report projects that wind and hydropower will see the fastest growth, with wind dominating in developed nations, and hydropower projects more limited to developing countries. By 2040, the report estimates renewables’ share of world energy use will be 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2010.

Of the fossil fuels, the report forecasts that coal use, which is the most carbon-intensive fuel source for generating electricity, will grow faster than petroleum consumption until after 2030, mainly due to increasing coal use in China and a decline in oil use in the industrialized nations. After 2030, coal will comprise a lower percentage of total world energy use, but still be in second place behind petroleum and other liquid fuels.

The chart below shows these shifts taking place, with coal's share decreasing in the long term but still remaining a huge part of the global energy market.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: EIA.

Additionally, the report projected that in the absence of additional policies to rein in planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, worldwide energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by nearly 50 percent by 2040, reaching 45 billion metric tons in 2040. The report didn't include the possibility of such policies due to uncertainties about when they might go into effect and how they would be structured, according to EIA's administrator, Adam Sieminski.

“The EIA tries to stay out of the business of forecasting policy developments,” Sieminski said at a press conference on Thursday.

The chart below shows which energy sources will be responsible for the most CO2 emissions. No surprise here — coal maintains its lead through 2040.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: EIA.

As far as nuclear power is concerned, the report estimates that most of the increase in nuclear power will occur in China, India, and South Korea, with China accounting for more than 40 percent of the global net increase in nuclear capacity. "The China story is an interesting one," Sieminski said. "This is going to be a reach and a stretch I think for China to do this and to manage it." 

The chart below depicts the massive expansion in the Chinese nuclear sector, as well as growth in India and other nations.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: EIA.

One of the biggest energy stories of the past decade has been the rise of natural gas production and use, particularly in the U.S., where new drilling technologies have given energy companies access to previously inaccessible natural gas deposits. The EIA report projects continued growth in the natural gas sector, with a large increase in developing countries' use of natural gas through 2040.

In terms of natural gas production, the EIA estimates that most of the production growth will occur in Europe and Eurasia, as well as the Middle East and U.S. The chart below shows that the U.S. will be No. 3 in terms of natural gas production growth, with an additional 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas produced between 2010 to 2040.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: EIA.

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Comments

By william Moomaw (Medford MA 02155)
on July 26th, 2013

This is a sobering reminder of what happens with business as usual. There may be glimmerings of alternative trajectories into the future. The announcement that the US will not provide foreign aid for the construction of coal plants, and a similar statement by the World Bank could be the beginning of a shifting tide. The fact that China supported the World bank policy change after insisting on a slight language change that would allow some support if there were no other options is also significant.

I agree that it is not possible for EIA to speculate about the future of policy, but this type of report continues projecting the future will get if we do not change, and does not even contemplate a future that we might want in order to avoid massive climate disruption. This report from Climate Central provides an excellent and timely summary of the EIA report.

Reply to this comment

By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on July 26th, 2013

The projections to 2040 (Figs 1 and also 6 at http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/more_highlights.cfm) do not provide even a hint of slowing global energy consumption let alone signs of the peak that is needed before global emissions can start to decline, (also Fig. 10). Clearly, there are uncertainties in these projections, particularly noted with respect to unforeseeable policy and economic growth impacts. But I wonder about other sources of uncertainty, in particular that due to uncertainties in water resources. The water-energy collision is and has been happening for some time in parts of the US. Other parts of the world are also at risk. Agricultural use of course variously factors heavily into this as well. So how water resources will interact specifically with the significant projected increases in energy production, especially in India and in China must be another quite relevant source of uncertainty here. In addition it seems logical, as has been studied and warned elsewhere, to also assume a significant net negative impact on these fundamental demand collisions due to the attendant accelerated impacts of climate change on water resources in different regions arising from the additional and increased emissions– yet another derivative source of uncertainty and also a truly major concern.

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By Sidney F Gale (Guilford, CT 06437)
on August 4th, 2013

The EIA has often been criticized for projecting business as usual, and often projecting wrong, mostly in terms of near-term fluctuations from a ‘straight-line’ historically defined trajectory. 

But in this instance, they may be regrettably correct, based on the reality of the moment that economic stasis and its energy requirements are trumping climate change at almost every turn.  Many governments are retreating from strategies to bend the carbon curve in the face of short term economic imperatives.  And those imperatives are not likely to improve for at least a decade.  So putting penalties on carbon, which appear to the average citizen to put penalties on the economy and their personal budgets, will not win converts to a long term mitigation strategy, even as more citizens and policy makers are coming to the inescapable ‘something is happening’.

I believed in 2004 that we were beyond the point of avoiding significant impacts. It was only a question of degree.  Some of the most vocal leaders of the environmental movement were adamant in denying the inevitability of such impacts until 2010.  Now they look in horror at what is unfolding, still disbelieving that society at large and its leadership remain committed to the status quo.  Even those who begin to acknowledge climate change for the most part will not acknowledge the changes we must make to counteract its current trajectory.

Maybe the West should consider dropping its restrictions against Chinese solar panels and assure a specified supply of natural gas in exchange for an iron-clad commitment from China to cease coal plant implementation, verifiable by satellite.  We have a global carbon budget. We need to manage it with the acute awareness of shared pain for shared gain.

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