EIA releases 2017 energy outlook with projections to 2050

By Katie Fletcher | January 26, 2017

The U.S. Energy Information Agency released its Annual Energy Outlook for 2017, providing modeled projections of domestic energy markets through 2050. The modeled projections indicate that with strong domestic production and relatively flat demand, the U.S. becomes a net energy exporter over the projection period in most cases, and as early as 2026 in the reference case used.

The AEO is developed using the National Energy Modeling System, an integrated model that aims to capture various interactions of economic changes and energy supply, demand and prices. A reference case projection assumes trend improvement in known technologies, along with a view of economic and demographic trends reflecting the current central views of leading economic forecasters and demographers. Also, potential impacts of proposed legislation, regulations or standards are not reflected in this case, as it assumes current law and regulations affecting the energy sector remain unchanged.

In addition to the reference case, there are also side cases provided in the energy outlook to address the uncertainty associated with energy projections. The projections included in AEO2017 provide what may happen given certain assumptions of macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, technological progress and energy policies.

According to the EIA, energy consumption varies minimally across all AEO cases between 2016 and 2040, with total energy consumption increasing by 5 percent during this time period in the reference case. EIA also modeled using high and low economic growth cases, which projected energy consumption to increase by approximately 11 percent using the high economic growth case and remain nearly flat with the low.

In all AEO cases, the electric power sector remains the largest consumer of primary energy. In the reference case, demand grows modestly in the electricity sector with the primary driver being the retirement of older, less efficient fossil fuel units—largely spurred by the Clean Power Plan—and the near-term availability of renewable energy tax credits. However, now under President Donald Trump’s administration, it’s unlikely the CPP will survive. However, even if the CPP is not implemented, low natural gas prices and the tax credits result in natural gas and renewables as the primary sources of new generation capacity, according to AEO2017.

While the electricity sector remains the largest consumer in the EIA projection, the fuel mix changes significantly. Natural gas use increases, while petroleum consumption remains relatively flat and coal consumption decreases as coal loses market share to natural gas and renewable generation in the power sector. On a percentage basis, renewable energy grows the fastest because capital costs fall with increased penetration and because current state and federal policies encourage its use, according to the report’s reference case. Liquid biofuels growth is constrained by relatively flat transportation energy use and blending limitations.

Unlike energy consumption, energy production varies widely with total energy production increasing by more than 20 percent from 2016 by 2040 in the reference case, led by increases in renewables, natural gas and crude oil production. Natural gas accounts for 40 percent of U.S. energy production by 2040 in the reference case and renewables factor into the increased growth due to the aforementioned cost reductions and existing state- and federal-level policies supporting the use of wind and solar energy that are factored into the AEO2017 reference case.

EIA is continuing to update and refine the market dynamics and technologies in future AEO’s with the projection extended to 2050, and one area of ongoing work aims at updating biofuels and emerging technological assumptions for gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids and carbon sequestration, as well as improve feedstock curves for all biofuel technologies.

The 64-page AEO2017 can be downloaded here.