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Department of Energy projections to 2050 suggest that fossil fuels, not renewables, are the energy sources of America’s future

February 8, 2018
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By Paul Homewood

Mark J. Perry,  Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Michigan, comments on the latest set of energy projections from the US Energy Information Administration:




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 modelled 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 modelling 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.

    Carpe oleum!

    Below are some of  the EIA’s relevant graphs:


    Energy consumption gradually rises in all bar the “low economic growth” scenario:




    Fossil fuels continue to dominate:




    It appears that CO2 emissions will resume a gradual increase, following the coal-related drop in the last few years:


    Although the Clean Power Plan is not included in the Reference Case. it makes very little difference anyway.




    Most of the increase in renewable energy comes from solar:




    Even under the most optimistic scenario for renewables, “Low Oil”, renewable generation still only rises to 2105 billion Kwh by 2050, 42% of total generation. (See below for definition of Oil and Gas scenarios).




    Consumption of gasoline and fuel oil for transport only falls marginally, partly due to better fuel efficiency:




    EVs still struggle to make much of an inroad, even by 2050, when they still only account for 19% of sales:




    It must be stressed that the Reference Case is based upon current laws and regulations. Things would change if, for instance, a future government mandated greater use of renewables.

    Nevertheless, the Reference Case is also based on known technologies and economics, along with “trend improvement” in these.

    So, for instance, it would take into account expected reductions in the cost of renewable energy, technological improvements to EVs, and so on.

    What the EIA is saying is that, given the crystal ball they have, it is unrealistic to expect renewable energy to make much of a dent in energy consumption even by 2050. Fossil fuels will continue to dominate unless something totally unexpected come along.




    The EIA Report is here:

    1. AZ1971 permalink
      February 8, 2018 7:05 pm

      Fossil fuels will continue to dominate unless something totally unexpected come along.

      We already know what those “totally unexpected” somethings are: thorium MSR’s and/or fusion power. If it’s the former, we can get rid of a lot of even the nat gas produced CO2 emissions. If it’s the latter, the entire global economy will be upended as energy costs will essentially drop to zero.

    2. Stuart Brown permalink
      February 8, 2018 8:12 pm

      AZ – agree with you for the first part, though I like the IFR (solid fuel, fast neutron, metal cooled, proven design) for right now. But your last sentence not so much.

      If energy costs depended on the cost of the fuel we’d already be there with PWRs, solar panels and wind turbines. I suspect fusion reactors will never be cheap to build, unless maybe something really unexpected comes along like artificial gravity or force fields to confine the plasma!

    3. markl permalink
      February 8, 2018 9:42 pm

      It’s good to see some common sense and reality for a change.

    4. February 9, 2018 9:12 am

      The BBC is today promoting the idea of ‘decoupling human wellbeing and progress from growth’ – with renewables of course.

    5. Keith permalink
      February 9, 2018 10:26 am

      Oh dear, fake news station BBC won’t want to report this.

    6. February 9, 2018 1:21 pm

      Former Texas Governor, Rick Perry, is now the Secretary of Energy. An adult is in charge of the Department and one who knows a thing or two about energy.

      My hometown, Morgantown, WV, once had many glass factories producing fine tableware. Morgantown Glass supplied glassware for the Johnson White House. A block away was an even greater factory, Seneca, which did not even make anything except clear lead crystal until the late 1950’s when they made a moulded Driftwood casual colored glassware. We used to go to Seneca and watch the glass cutters who worked without patterns. They finally closed when Waterford managed to convince fickle Americans that imported was superior to American. I still use my red, white and blue Betsy Ross glassware from Morgantown Glass and my copious Driftwood and my clear with gold rim, Andover, from Seneca.

      However, the reason those factories and others which made lamp parts and paperweights, etc. was the availability of abundant, cheap natural gas. Sand from the river could not be used as it contains too much mineral debris. Glass requires wind-blown sand deposits. No, it was the availability of abundant, cheap natural gas.

    7. Russ Wood permalink
      February 9, 2018 2:09 pm

      Gad! The USA (officially) can’t run on unicorn farts and moonbeams! Now, I’m afraid that I have to use a common ‘conservative’ comment – “The liberals’ heads are going to explode!” Mind, you, headless or not, it won’t stop them forcing ‘porkies’ on the masses…


    1. EIA estimates for USA in 2050: The Future is Fossil Fuels and Cheap Electricity –

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