Carpe Diem

Fossil fuels will continue to supply > 80% of US energy through 2040, while renewables will play only a minor role

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President Obama has religiously promoted renewable energy sources, and said during his 2012 campaign that “We’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.” By “investments” Obama means massive “taxpayer-funded subsidies” for wind, solar, and biofuels. At the same time, Obama has frequently dismissed fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past.” But according to new projections released today by Obama’s own Department of Energy, the reality is much different — fossil fuels will continue be America’s dominant energy source for the next quarter century and beyond, while renewables, even with continued taxpayer life support, will continue to play a relatively minor role as an energy source for the US.

Here’s what the Department of Energy reported on its website last July about the “predominance” of fossil fuels far into America’s future:

While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.

Today, the Department of Energy released the early version of its Annual Energy Outlook 2014, with the following commentary about the ongoing surge in the production of America’s oil and gas, thanks to advanced drilling and extraction technologies:

Growing domestic production of natural gas and crude oil continues to reshape the U.S. energy economy, with crude oil production approaching the historical high achieved in 1970 of 9.6 million barrels per day.

Ongoing improvements in advanced technologies for crude oil and natural gas production continue to lift domestic supply and reshape the U.S. energy economy. Domestic production of crude oil (including lease condensate) increases sharply in the AEO2014 Reference case, with annual growth averaging 0.8 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) through 2016, when it totals 9.5 MMbbl/d. While domestic crude oil production is expected to level off and then slowly decline after 2020, natural gas production grows steadily, with a 56% increase between 2012 and 2040, when production reaches 37.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).

MP: Based on the new data and projections released today by the Department of Energy, the chart above illustrates the importance of fossil fuels to America as an energy source — in the past, today, and in the future. Over almost a one-hundred year period from 1949 to 2040, fossil fuels have provided, and will continue to provide, the vast majority of America’s energy by far. This year, fossil fuels are expected to provide almost 84% of America’s energy, which is nearly unchanged from the 85% fossil fuel energy share twenty years ago in the early 1990s. Looking forward, even more than a quarter of a century from now in 2040, the Department of Energy forecasts that fossil fuels will still be the nation’s dominant energy source, providing more than 81% of our energy needs (see chart). So, despite President Obama’s dismissal of fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past,” the Department of Energy’s own forecasts tell a much different story of an energy future where fossil fuels serve as the dominant energy source to power our vehicles, heat and light our homes, factories and office buildings, and fuel the US economy.

Also shown in the chart above are the shares of total energy consumption provided by nuclear and hydropower combined. Those two sources of energy are expected to provide just under 11% of total energy demand this year, and the energy share for those two sources has been remarkably stable for more than twenty years, and is expected to remain stable at about 11% for the next quarter century through 2040 (see chart).

What about President Obama’s claim that we should “invest” in “energy sources of the future” — renewables like solar, biofuels, and wind — instead of focusing on oil. Again, the Department of Energy’s forecasts tell a much different story about America’s energy future. Even after “investing” billions of taxpayer dollars subsidies in renewable energy sources (solar, wind and biomass) already, those three sources will provide only 5.5% of America’s energy this year, which won’t be much greater than the 4% renewable share 25 years ago in 1988 — that’s not a lot of progress for the politically-popular, taxypayer-subsidized renewables (see chart). When it comes to solar and wind, those two politically favored energy sources are expected to provide only 2.34% of America’s energy this year — an almost insignificant amount. Even in 2040, more than a quarter century from now, solar and wind together will account for less than 3.7% of America’s energy consumption, according to today’s Department of Energy forecasts.

Bottom Line: According to Obama’s own Energy Department, the reality is that abundant, low-cost fossil fuels will continue to dominate the US energy mix for at least the next quarter century, and probably much longer into the future. Meanwhile, politics aside, the economic and scientific reality according to the Energy Department is that renewable sources of energy will continue to play a minor role in America’s energy mix. In 2040, the Energy Department’s projected 10.4% share for all renewables (including hydropower) will be almost inconsequentially different from the 9.3% share of all renewables back in 1949. In other words, the Energy Department’s not expecting a lot of progress for renewable energies as a fuel source for America, even after almost 100 years of efforts from politicians like Obama and billions of taxpayer dollars to promote alternative sources of energy that aren’t viable without massive amounts of taxpayer life support.

33 thoughts on “Fossil fuels will continue to supply > 80% of US energy through 2040, while renewables will play only a minor role

  1. Of course, the obvious objection one might raise is that this is assuming current technology levels, which is a perfectly valid claim to make. One of the points of renewable energy subsidies is to encourage invention in that area.

    But, as it stands right now, fossil fuels are, by far, the most efficient, the most clean, and the cheapest form of energy we have.

    • > One of the points of renewable energy subsidies is to encourage invention in that area.

      Invention can’t change a fuel’s energy density.

      > as it stands right now, fossil fuels are, by far, the most efficient, the most clean, and the cheapest form of energy we have.

      No. That would be fission fuels.

        • > No. That would be fossil fuels.

          Reconcile that with this:

          • 1944, Oct. 20. The East Ohio Natural Gas Co. experienced a failure of an LNG tank in Cleveland, Ohio.[39] 128 people perished in the explosion and fire. The tank did not have a dike retaining wall, and it was made during World War II, when metal rationing was very strict. The steel of the tank was made with an extremely low amount of nickel, which meant the tank was brittle when exposed to the cryogenic nature of LNG. The tank ruptured, spilling LNG into the city sewer system. The LNG vaporized and turned into gas, which exploded and burned.

          • 1979, Oct. 6, Lusby, Maryland, at the Cove Point LNG facility a pump seal failed, releasing natural gas vapors (not LNG), which entered and settled in an electrical conduit.[39] A worker switched off a circuit breaker, which ignited the gas vapors. The resulting explosion killed a worker, severely injured another and caused heavy damage to the building. A safety analysis was not required at the time, and none was performed during the planning, design or construction of the facility.[40] National fire codes were changed as a result of the accident.

          • 2004, Jan. 19, Skikda, Algeria. Explosion at Sonatrach LNG liquefaction facility.[39] 27 killed, 56 injured, three LNG trains destroyed, a marine berth was damaged and 2004 production was down 76 percent for the year. Total loss was USD 900 million. A steam boiler that was part of an LNG liquefaction train exploded triggering a massive hydrocarbon gas explosion. The explosion occurred where propane and ethane refrigeration storage were located. Site distribution of the units caused a domino effect of explosions.[41][42] It remains unclear if LNG or LNG vapour, or other hydrocarbon gases forming part of the liquefaction process initiated the explosions. One report, of the US Government Team Site Inspection of the Sonatrach Skikda LNG Plant in Skikda, Algeria, March 12–16, 2004, has cited it was a leak of hydrocarbons from the refrigerant (liquefaction) process system.

    • Current windmill technology is very close to the theoretical maximum in terms of efficiency. Not much more one can do. Could work on low cost storage techniques to make the windmills more viable.

      Problem with Wind and solar is that they aren’t available when you need them most. EG max power use is in August @ about 3pm. Wind picks up in the late afternoon and solar peaks at noontime well before peak demand.

      EG 2 – you recall the big snow storms last week. Well Europe pumped up the coal plants to max, and Germany was even short on Natural gas because of the cold. England is in the same boat. They invested in Solar and Wind, but you can not use solar energy to heat your home in a snow storm. You also can’t use wind energy in a storm, or when it is too cold, because they shut the things down to prevent damage.

      • > Problem with Wind and solar is that they aren’t available when you need them most.

        No. That’s the common misunderstanding. The real problem is energy density. Wind and solar just don’t have enough of it to be competitive. All other problems with these two fuels, including their fantastically high death rates, derive from that single master problem.

        > in a storm [...] they shut the things down to prevent damage

        Some of the turbines in a given fleet could be designed specifically (and therefore only) to operate during storms. The reason this isn’t practical, as I said, is the master reason for all of wind’s problems: low energy density.

        • “Some of the turbines in a given fleet could be designed specifically (and therefore only) to operate during storms”

          even if it were possible, that in itself would mean they were only used a small portion of the time and jack the costs WAY up.

          the big problem with wind is twofold:

          1. it is intermittent and difficult to predict and therefore can never be baseline power

          2. power over sweep from wind is a third power function of velocity.

          so, if a turbine is designed to produce 10mw at 30 mph, at 20mph it produces 3 and at 15 it produces 1.25.

          and at 35, you have to feather it and above that likely shut it down to avoid blowing the generator.

          that’s why you get maybe 20% of faceplate even in excellent site and far less in average ones.

          • > the big problem with wind is twofold

            No. It’s one-fold: low energy density. Everything else derives from that.

            > 1. it is intermittent and difficult to predict and therefore can never be baseline power

            I just explained how it can serve as baseload power: stage it geometrically. Making it serve as baseload power is expensive and dangerous because of its low energy density.

            > 2. power over sweep from wind is a third power function of velocity.

            That’s why it would be staged geometrically — if some party were crazy and rich enough to build a baseload windpower farm.

          • hit-

            you cannot “stage it geometrically”.

            1. that doesn’t work at either high or low ends of windspeed.

            2. that’s incredibly wasteful and means you’ll get 6% of faceplate, not 20 jacking up the cost.

            you keep saying “low energy density” like that means somehting, but providing absolutely no evidence on what you are trying to say and then making claims that are simply not true.

            it is neither possible to stage wind turbines geometrically in a way that makes them work as baseline not would it be practical to do so even if you could.

          • > 1. that doesn’t work at either high or low ends of windspeed.

            Wind turbines designed to operate at low wind speeds actually do operate at low wind speeds.

            Wind turbines designed to operate at high wind speeds actually do operate at high wind speeds.

            By definition, it works.

            > 2. that’s incredibly wasteful

            …As a result of wind fuel’s low energy density. Meanwhile, your claim that wind “can never be baseline power” was false.

          • hit-

            no, it doesn’t.

            low speed can never work well and when there is no wind, nothing works. i don’t care what you build, it’s not going to generate meaningful power at 3 mph and be able to stand up in 20.

            and you are then doubling and tripling costs of an already non economic power source and still cannot get to baseline type 99.99% availability.

            you are simply making up facts here and ignoring the basic issues.

            my claim that wind can never be baseline power is true.

            what about when it is not blowing or is under 3-5 mph?

            you are making bad assumptions to prop up a fantasy system that could not be built at any price and would not be able to provide baseline power even if it could as it would be far too variable including long periods of NO power when the wind stopped or was too strong.

          • > what about when it is not blowing

            …Same as when a reactor trips. The utility that owns the unit pays a penalty fee to the grid operator until the unit starts generating again. 90% capacity factor, typical for nuclear power, is not impossible for wind farms. It would just be expensive, as a result of wind fuel’s low energy-density.

          • @Morganovich

            > it’s not going to generate meaningful power at 3 mph and be able to stand up in 20.

            Tell Siemens. Here‘s a turbine with a cut in speed of 4 m/s (8.9 mph), a cut out speed of 25 m/s (56 mph), and a maximum gust of 59.5 m/s (133 mph). That’s a ratio of 15/1 vs. your example of 7/1.

            > including long periods of NO power when the wind stopped or was too strong.

            I agree with no power when the wind is stopped — unless you have diesel peakers to handle that — but there’s no theoretical upper limit to the subsonic wind speeds that can be handled by wind turbines. There are myriad real-world examples of wind turbines built and used 70 years ago to handle wind speeds of 500 mph. They’re called “propellers”.

          • hit-

            yes, a 90% capacity factor IS impossible for a wind farm.

            none have ever even come close.

            they hit 20%.

            and, unlike a nuclear plant, the timing is not predictable.

            further, you are misusing the concept of capacity factor.

            just because a plant is not running at full power (because of lower demand) is not a problem for baseline so long as that power is available if needed.

            wind does not do this.

            you are just making stuff up and misusing terms.

            and this:

            “but there’s no theoretical upper limit to the subsonic wind speeds that can be handled by wind turbines.”

            is just ridiculous.

            maybe you could design a turbine to work at 50mph winds, but if you had the whole cascade of them you propose, the one designed to work at 7mph would be destroyed.

            and you still have no solved the no wind issue, nor the unpredictability of power available issue.

            you are just devising more and more absurd scenarios to avoid the obvious fact that wind cannot perform in the way that baseline power needs it to.

          • “> it’s not going to generate meaningful power at 3 mph and be able to stand up in 20.

            Tell Siemens. Here‘s a turbine with a cut in speed of 4 m/s (8.9 mph), a cut out speed of 25 m/s (56 mph), and a maximum gust of 59.5 m/s (133 mph). That’s a ratio of 15/1 vs. your example of 7/1.”

            more dishonest grandstanding.

            what’s the output of the seimens turbine at 3mph?

            oh yeah, zero.

            nice try, but another fail.

        • Hit

          All other problems with these two fuels, including their fantastically high death rates, derive from that single master problem.

          High compared to what?

          You didn’t show any data for solar energy related deaths.

        • “Tell Siemens. Here‘s a turbine with a cut in speed of 4 m/s (8.9 mph), a cut out speed of 25 m/s (56 mph), and a maximum gust of 59.5 m/s (133 mph). That’s a ratio of 15/1 vs. your example of 7/1.”

          are you really this ignorant?

          1. 8.9 mph is quite high. you are going to be below that a fair bit of the time. oops, no baseline.

          2. that range does not all deliver full faceplate power. the power delivered varies by a massive margin. such turbines are in the field all over.

          they produce 20% of faceplate overall in an unpredictable fashion.

          one hour 5mw, the next 1 then next 3 the next 2, zero.

          which part of “third power equation” are you not grasping?

          what, you think it’s a magic turbine where cut in speed delivers as much power as peak faceplate?

          • > 1. 8.9 mph is quite high.

            It wasn’t claimed it wasn’t. It was claimed that a spread of 8.9 mph to 133 mph falsifies your claim that “it’s not going to generate meaningful power at 3 mph and be able to stand up in 20.”

            > you are going to be below that a fair bit of the time

            What percentage?

            > 2. that range does not all deliver full faceplate power

            Nameplate power is arbitrary.

            > the power delivered varies

            …Not if it’s made to not vary.

            > one hour 5mw

            The link I gave you said 2.4 MW. If you have 100 turbines operating when each is producing .24 MW, and shut down 90 of them when each is producing 2.4 MW, the power output of the wind farm remains the same.

            >> I just explained how it can serve as baseload power: stage it geometrically.
            > which part of “third power equation” are you not grasping?

            …Apparently none of it, judging by my suggestion to geometrically stage the turbine array.

            > you think it’s a magic turbine where cut in speed delivers as much power as peak faceplate?

            It wouldn’t need to be magic to do that. It would just need a brake, and to have been underrated.

    • > Mexico is going to [...] allow outside ownership and production

      Smart move. Right after the new infrastructure is built at the expense of foreign investors, they can nationalize it.

      • I don’t think it will happen. It isn’t as easy to extract oil any more. They need the technical expertise. If they nationalized the industry again production would drop very quickly

  2. An alternative to fossil crude could be Green Crude.

    Huh? Processed algae that is molecularly similar to traditional crude.

    “The process for making algae into fuel at a very base level is this: Sunlight and CO2 are the source of energy and carbon dioxide, rather than sugar or other organic material. By applying the principals used in biotechnology, Sapphire has produced oil in algae that is highly branched and undecorated – the way that traditional crude is – to get a biological crude molecularly similar to light sweet crude. This Green Crude is then processed at a refinery just as traditional crude to make all three major distillates – gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.”

    Maybe the U.S. has additional crude resources but not in the traditional brown color.

    • cb-

      that technology has been around for a long time.

      i first started seeing business plans with it in the late 90′s including big bags of algae on sort of rotating racks in the mojave.

      it sounds promising in that it uses the sun to add energy and is storable.

      i am not that familiar with it or what makes it difficult, but that fact that in 15 years little to nothing has come of it leads me to believe there must be some sort of significant issue.

      perhaps it’s fixable, perhaps not.

      but the one thing we can absolutely bank on is this:

      when someone comes up with a renewable replacement for fossil fuels that is cost effective and mass producible, we will not need to wonder if it’s a promising technology.

      it will take off like an atlas rocket.

      • > when someone comes up with a renewable replacement for fossil fuels

        Fossil fuels are already rechargeable, and there exist 10 billion years’ worth of carbon in the lithosphere from which liquid hydrocarbon fuels could be made.

        • “Fossil fuels are already rechargeable, and there exist 10 billion years’ worth of carbon in the lithosphere from which liquid hydrocarbon fuels could be made.”

          but not in a timeframe or at a cost than makes commercial sense at the moment.

          • morganovich

            “”but not in a timeframe or at a cost than makes commercial sense at the moment.

            I doubt that Hit’s notion of recreating gasoline from CO2 and water using nuclear power will ever hit the bigtime. There are too many cheaper alternatives.

        • “It will be interesting if the algae ponds will make waves in the fuels market.”

          ironically, wave power did not.

          there were some guys talking about buoy fields of generators where you would put coils of wire in the floats and a magnet that would bob up and down through them and generate electricity.

          alas, the only waves they made were from the biz plan sinking.

          • There are a lot of alternative energy ideas that seem really nifty but are impractical. I liked the giant tower generator. YOu get a round tower as high as a skyscraper in the desert, and pump up water and spray mist in the center. The mist evaporates cooling the air and causing it to sink – moving a turbine blade at base generating electricity!

        • That needs to be clarified.
          ” Once the study is finished, the companies will work together to complete the EPA certification process to register a new fuel product entering the market and to begin siphoning subsides from the public “

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