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Gas continues to hurt coal

In late January, the United States Energy Information Administration released its yearly longterm energy outlook.

Though not a true prediction of the future, this year’s outlook attempts to lay out the nation’s energy situation using multiple scenarios in the upcoming decades up to the year 2050.

Most notably this year’s outlook projects that the United States will become a net energy exporter in the year 2020 due to increased production of crude oil, natural gas and natural gas plant liquids alongside slow growth in the national consumption of energy with that consumption remaining relatively flat into the future despite an expanding economy due to national advances in energy efficiency.

“This is an exciting time to be modeling U.S. energy,” said EIA Administrator Linda Capuano at a release event. “There’s a great deal of change. Over the last few years, the United States has become the largest producer of natural gas and last year the largest producer of oil in the world.”

The shift from a net importer to a net exporter is significant. According to the EIA, the nation has been a net importer of energy since 1953.

Within the electric power sector, the outlook projects that natural gas will continue to be the nation’s largest fuel source.

“With relatively low natural gas prices in the reference cases, natural gas power generation grows steadily and remains a dominant fuel through 2050,” Capuano said.

According to the EIA, in 2018, natural gas-powered electric generation accounted for 34 percent of the nation’s electric capacity with that figure projected to grow to 39 percent by 2050.

Coal, which up until the recent past was the nation’s leading power source, is expected to continue to lose ground in the national power generation picture.

In 2018, coal accounted for 28 percent of the nation’s power generation.

By 2050, the EIA projects that figure will decline to 17 percent.

Alongside the decline of coal as a national power source, the EIA is projecting nuclear’s share of the generation pie will decline from 19 percent last year to 12 percent by 2050.

The largest growth in the energy sector can be seen in renewables.

According to the outlook, renewable energy share of the nation’s generation capacity will nearly double in the coming decades from 18 percent in 2018 to 31 percent by 2050 with renewables becoming the nation’s second-largest energy source sometime around 2025.

That growth comes despite reductions in federal support for renewable projects set to curtail in the next decade.

“As the incentives roll away, there are still cost advantages and so we see that renewable generation does continue to gain share,” Capuano said.

Within the renewable sector, growth is largely sequestered to solar installations.

According to the outlook, both wind and hydro will see declines in their share of the renewable output within the coming decades while solar is expected to grow from 13 percent to 48 percent of national renewable capacity by 2050.

As for the export market, the outlook projects that the United States will remain a net exporter of coal through 2050, though the outlook projects that those exports won’t increase due to international competition.

According to the EIA, the United States became a net exporter of natural gas in 2017 and in the long-term outlook projections, natural gas exports are expected to continue to rapidly grow through 2030 and then maintain slower, steady growth through 2050.

The release of the outlook took place at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D. C., and while Capuano was sequestered into simply going over the outlook, the center invited a panel of experts to discuss the implications of the outlook and energy policy.

“I read this (the outlook) as saying ‘gas, gas, gas,’” said Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Low natural gas prices are going to create a situation where economics, policy, technology progressions are going to bring us to a world where the electricity system is basically gas and some renewables.”

Grumet was joined on stage by three panelists: Colette Honorable, Kevin Book and Arshad Mansoor.

“I didn’t find surprises in this outlook, but confirmations,” said Honorable. “One is the strength and importance of fuel and resources diversity.”

Honorable, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner and former chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, said she had no issue with the growth in natural gas from a regulatory perspective and said it was needed to complement the growth in renewable energy.

Along with the acceptance of natural gas, Honorable spoke on the importance of continuing the trend of focusing on energy efficiency.

Mansoor, the senior vice president for research and development at the Electric Power Research Institute, said EIA’s outlook was the most fundamentally sound analysis available.

An energy technology expert, Mansoor said the demand for energy and its future is customer-driven.

“It’s customer choice,” Mansoor said. “Comfort, control, cost that will drive the type of energy use and the way that we use it.”

Mansoor added that he believes society is underestimating how transportation and electricity will be intertwined in the near future and said that advancement will be due to engineering advancements and not new science.

As an example, Mansoor said that as recently as seven to eight years ago the cost for batteries in electric vehicles was as high as $800 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Mansoor said that today that cost is down to $150 per kWh and that he expects it to fall to at least $50 per kWh.

Citing his belief in the cost of electric vehicle batteries and the EIA’s projection of lower electricity cost, Mansoor broke down the transition to electric vehicles into simple economics.

“Do your own math and see how much does a customer save in terms of its energy bill,” Mansoor said.

Mansoor shared his organization’s belief that through technological progression and lowered costs, the nation’s energy future is bright.

“We see a future — a very, very positive future,” Mansoor said. “We see a future where our GDP (gross domestic product) grows; that data comes from the EIA, we’re not a forecaster of GDP, but we do that in a much more efficient way.”

Distributed by The Associated Press.

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