U.S. to emerge as net exporter in 2020 — EIA

Source: Jenny Mandel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2019

Federal forecasters yesterday said the United States will emerge as a net energy exporter next year as growing oil and refined product shipments join natural gas in outweighing the country’s imports.

But such ambitious milestones are unlikely to be met when it comes to tackling climate change.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual forecastreleased yesterday projects that starting next year and continuing for decades to come, the country will export more oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and refined products than it imports, reflecting growing production and relatively flat consumption.

Natural gas liquids — hydrocarbons like ethane, butane and propane that are produced along with natural gas — are a fast-growing segment of the energy industry and account for almost one third of U.S. liquids production through midcentury, according to agency projections.

The data point to continued growth for natural gas in the nation’s power mix, expanding from 34 percent of electricity generation last year to 39 percent in 2050, while solar, wind and to a lesser extent other renewables grow from an 18 percent power share last year to account for 31 percent of electricity production in 2050.

Retirements of coal and nuclear power plants are projected to continue over the coming decade, pushing renewables to overtake them in the electricity market by then in EIA’s base case scenario, but both coal and nuclear power remain in the power mix through 2050 in the base case, at 42 percent and 22 percent of today’s capacity levels, respectively.

The path laid out by EIA’s projections does not put the U.S. on track for the kind of large-scale shift away from fossil fuels that scientists say is needed to blunt the impacts of climate change, which includes cutting global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and becoming nearly carbon-neutral by 2050 (Greenwire, Oct. 8, 2018).

Some analysts have long taken issue with EIA’s projections, pointing out that they historically undercount the scale of growth of renewables, especially. Alex Gilbert, co-founder of SparkLibrary, an energy policy and market analysis platform, notes that the model includes no contributions from offshore wind energy and extremely limited growth in onshore wind after 2020, despite robust industry activity in both areas.

“EIA scenarios constantly project this death of the wind industry. Historically, they have blamed tax credit expiration. However, the tax credit expiration is (more or less) final now and the wind industry still plans to exist in five years,” Gilbert wrote in a Twitter post.

The EIA projections are based on a range of scenarios for economic conditions but no changes to current energy law over the projection period. The agency maintains that backdrop will not reflect real-life conditions but serves as a useful analytical baseline for policy decisions.

Click herefor EIA’s 2019 Annual Energy Outlook.