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Newest US Energy Estimates Raise Questions, Cause Concerns

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2013 Early Release Overview this week with a combination of encouraging and alarming information about our emissions.  Although the full report is not released until the spring, the abridged version takes into account the numerous policy changes and market trends put into effect by the US in 2012.

On the bright side, new regulations enforced by President Obama this year will create sustained long-term reductions for national gasoline consumption.  Assuming the auto industry is able to keep up with these extended regulation standards, the average fuel economy of all vehicles built in the US will eclipse 50 miles per gallon by 2035.  As a result, national liquid consumption (mostly gasoline) will drop nearly 1.5 million barrels per day in that timeframe.  The first set of basic consumption standards, signed by former President George W. Bush in 2007, has been implemented this year with widespread success.

In addition, the EIA estimates domestic production of oil, specifically in North Dakota and Texas, will increase by an estimated 36 percent by 2020.  Lower gasoline consumption combined with added production of our own oil will result in a steep reduction of foreign oil dependence by as much as 25% over the next ten years.

While this is considered outstanding news for our local oil economy and for energy independence, there is a glaring fear that these trends will exacerbate climate change and drain the country of a vital natural resource.  Based on figures from the International Energy Agency, the Earth will need to retain two-thirds of its oil reserves in the ground (and thus out of the air, too) through 2050 to avoid “devastating environmental change”.  While the term “devastating” can be linked to many different scenarios, the frequency of “superstorms” like Katrina and Sandy has already increased, so the thought of polluting for several more decades at this level can only make circumstances worse.

Renewable energy is the pivotal wild card in this discussion.  Many consider it as an excellent opportunity to reduce our energy demands quickly and effectively.  The estimates by the EIA are mixed; recognizing that solar energy generation to the grid will double by 2020 and increase by another third between 2020 and 2030.  In comparison, wind energy will increase by a meager 6% by 2030.

There are other factors in play that have yet to be determined with renewable energy.  One major problem stems from the level of aid and tax exemptions being offered by the federal government.  Because of the Production Tax Credit expiring at the end of 2012 for wind energy, and the end of similar policies for solar power in 2014, the opportunity to continually develop large projects will be cumbersome for future decades unless supplemental policies are put into place to make renewables more viable.  Another factor the EIA can’t take into account is the emergence of new breakthroughs in technology that could make renewables more cost-efficient and thus easier to implement.  Both factors will be extremely important moving forward.

All things considered, the 2013 Early Release report’s verdict is not as gloomy as it has been in years past.  Last year’s report marked the first time a long-term decrease in carbon pollution was predicted, and this year’s report reflects improvement over last year.  Compared to 2005 levels of carbon pollution, our current levels reflect an approximate 10% drop – although our emissions are expected to creep up to only 5% below the 2005 levels by 2040.  With so much at stake, the ongoing balance between economic prosperity, foreign reliance on natural resources and the necessity to remain focused on climate change and carbon pollution will be an ongoing discussion and an uphill battle for generations to come.  While the damage we have caused this planet will not resort to apocalyptic levels in our lifetime, especially not by December 21st, everything we do now will have a direct impact on the generations that we precede.

Kristopher Settle
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Kris can be found on Twitter and Google+.

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