Denver — Due to the ongoing grip of the coronavirus pandemic and its eventual aftermath, it might take years before US energy consumption matches 2019 levels, while renewable power will continue to capture greater shares of total generation, according to a report issued by the US Energy Information Administration on Feb. 3.
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US-level carbon dioxide emissions are also projected to continue falling for the next few years before flattening out and then possibly rising again.
However, the EIA emphasized its 2021 Annual Energy Outlook projections "are subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because of the ongoing effects of COVID-19."
"It will take a while for the energy sector to get to its new normal," said EIA acting administrator Stephen Nalley. "The pandemic triggered a historic energy demand shock that led to lower greenhouse gas emissions, decreases in energy production and sometimes volatile commodity prices in 2020. The pace of economic recovery, advances in technology, changes in trade flows and energy incentives will determine how the United States produces and consumes energy in the future."
Outside of renewables, natural gas holds the highest upside for capturing a greater share of the electricity mix due to continued declines of coal and nuclear-fired power generation. Export growth also provides additional strength to gas demand in the years and even decades ahead, according to the report.
EIA projects US electricity demand will not return to 2019 levels until 2025. Renewable electric generating technologies are projected to account for almost 60% of the capacity additions from 2020 to 2050 with renewables' share of the electricity generation mix more than doubling by 2050. Gas-fired power share will remain relatively flat at 36%, while coal and nuclear shares will both fall by about half, according to baseline projections.
"Renewable energy incentives and falling technology costs support robust competition with natural gas as coal and nuclear power decrease in the electricity mix," according to the report.
Natural gas will continue to compete with renewables due to prices that are forecast to rise only incrementally over most of the next 30 years.
All new generating capacity is expected to come from gas, solar and wind sources. Renewable generating capacity is forecast to grow by 213 GW over the next decade, according to the EIA's reference case. Gas-fired capacity is projected to increase by 63 GW while coal capacity will decrease by approximately 100 GW.
By 2050, renewable power is projected to increase to 42% of all US electricity generation capacity from only 21% in 2021. In 2050, solar is expected to account for 47% of all renewable power capacity with wind at 34%. Over the same time frame, gas-fired power is forecast to fall from 40% of all generating capacity to 36%, in the reference case.
The "reference case" examines a future in which slower growth in consumption in an increasingly energy-efficient economy contrasts with increasing energy supply because of technological progress in renewable sources, oil and natural gas. The reference case also does not include any possible regulatory changes at the federal or state level.
Continuing record-high domestic energy production supports natural gas exports through LNG terminals and pipelines, but does not necessarily mean growth in the US trade balance across petroleum products. Industrial demand also has the potential to make modest gains over the next three decades as well.