The New York Times Green Blog published a post a few weeks ago that we thought was worth summarizing and referencing here. In “The Energy Future Ain’t What it Used To Be,” author Matthew W. Wald explains how the momentum towards shifting from coal and gas to renewable energy may be slowing, and why.
Drawing from a recently published report summary from the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) that surprisingly predicts the price of natural gas, coal-based electricity and even crude oil to remain about the same over the next 25 years, Wald’s article contains some predictions that will have supporters of green jobs and people concerned about climate change wringing hands. Yet, the post also referenced the USDOE’s estimation that “American carbon dioxide emissions will not inexorably set new records; they will stay below the rate of 2005 for the next 15 years because of economic forces.”
The full Annual Energy Outlook will be published by USDOE in March 2011. But, while we wait for more information, you are probably wondering – Why this apparent 180 degree turn in the government’s projections?
Wald’s blog post explains:
The big change is the amount of natural gas available in shale formations. The department nearly doubled its estimate in the new projection from the one it issued a year ago. As a result, it is predicting that natural gas will remain under $5 per million cubic feet through 2022. Before the recession, it sold for over $12; the price lately has been between $4 and $4.50. Natural gas will increase its share of the electricity market, one factor that will drive down carbon emissions, the government predicted.
The information released on Thursday was based on what the government calls a reference case, or estimate; its report in March will also include a low case and a high case. Among the major changes from last year, it projected that the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in 2035 will be 9.2 cents; last year it estimated that would be 10.3 cents. The price in 2009 was 9.8 cents.
Lower electricity prices are important because as they decline, the economic argument for building nuclear reactors, wind machines or solar cells gets weaker, as does the economic argument for more energy-efficient appliances. (The lack of a pricing structure for carbon dioxide also reduces the impetus toward adopting carbon-free sources of power generation; the new projection does not assume that Congress will have enacted a cap-and-trade law or a similar rule that would make carbon dioxide emissions more costly.)
Other projections from the USDOE about our energy future:
- Congressional rules requiring the use of advanced biofuels will not be achievable
- Liquid biofuels will account for only 3% of energy consumption by 2035
- Production of coal in America will be 21% higher in 2035 than it was in 2009 – but fortunately no new coal plants will be constructed beyond those already underway
- Nuclear energy generation will rise nearly 13% by 2035
- Crude oil will shift slightly with more produced domestically and less imported
For more information, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration AOE2011 Early Release Overview.