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Biofuels Renewable Production Growing Faster than Fossil Fuel Use

Published on December 7th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill


US Energy Production Outpacing Consumption

[Editor's notes at the end.]

The US Energy Information Administration has just released its “Annual Energy Outlook 2013” report with projections for US energy markets through to 2040. The report shows that growth in the country’s energy production is outpacing the growth of consumption.

Specifically, the report found that the growth of renewable energy is much faster than the use of fossil fuel.

Renewable Production Growing Faster than Fossil Fuel Use

“EIA’s updated Reference case shows how evolving consumer preferences, improved technology, and economic changes are pushing the nation toward more domestic energy production, greater vehicle efficiency, greater use of clean energy and reduced energy imports,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. “This combination has markedly reduced projected energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.”

Some key findings:

  • Crude oil production, particularly from tight oil plays, rises sharply over the next decade. The advent and continuing improvement of advanced crude oil production technologies continues to increase projected domestic supply. Domestic production of crude oil increases sharply in AEO2013, with an annual growth averaging 234 thousand barrels per day (bpd) from 2011 through 2019, when production reaches 7.5 million bpd (Figure 1). The growth results largely from a significant increase in onshore crude oil production, particularly from shale and other tight formations. After about 2020, production begins declining gradually to 6.1 million bpd in 2040 as producers develop sweet spots first and then move to less productive or less profitable drilling areas.
  • Motor gasoline consumption is lower in the AEO2013 relative to the level in AEO2012, reflecting the introduction of more stringent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards; growth in diesel fuel consumption is moderated by increased use of natural gas in heavy-duty vehicles. AEO2013 incorporates the greenhouse gas (GHG) and CAFE standards for light-duty vehicles (LDVs) through the 2025 model year, which raise the new vehicle fuel economy requirement from 32.6 miles per gallon (mpg) in 2011 to 47.3 mpg in 2025. The increase in vehicle efficiency reduces gasoline use in the transportation sector by 0.5 million bpd in 2025 and by 1.0 million bpd in 2035 in AEO2013 compared to the AEO2012 Reference case (Figure 2). Furthermore, the improved economics of natural gas results in an increase in the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in heavy-duty vehicles that offsets a portion of diesel fuel consumption. The use of petroleum-based diesel fuel is also reduced by the increased use of diesel produced using gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology. Natural gas use in vehicles reaches 1.7 trillion cubic feet (including GTL) by 2040, displacing 0.7 million bpd of other motor fuels.
  • The United States becomes a larger exporter of natural gas than projected in the AEO2012 Reference case. US natural gas production increases throughout the projection period (Figure 3), outpacing domestic consumption by 2020 and spurring net exports of natural gas. Higher volumes of shale gas production in AEO2013 are central to higher production volumes and an earlier transition to net exports than was projected in the AEO2012 Reference case. US exports of LNG from domestic sources rise to approximately 1.6 trillion cubic feet in 2027, double the 0.8 trillion cubic feet projected in AEO2012; the United States becomes a net exporter of LNG in 2016.
  • Renewable fuel use grows at a much faster rate than fossil fuel use. The share of electricity generation from renewables grows from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040. Electricity generation from solar and, to a lesser degree, wind energy sources grows as recent cost declines make them more economical. However, the AEO2013 projection is less optimistic about the ability of advanced biofuels to capture a rapidly growing share of the liquid fuels market than AEO2012. As a result, biomass use in AEO2013 totals 4.2 quadrillion Btu by 2035 (compared to 5.4 quadrillion Btu in AEO2012) and 4.9 quadrillion Btu in 2040, up from 2.7 quadrillion Btu in 2011.
  • With improved efficiency of energy use and a shift away from the most carbon-intensive fuels US energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remain more than 5 percent below their 2005 level through 2040 [Editor's note: recall, from our post moments ago, that "energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions" is a very deceiving term that hides simultaneous growth in CO2 emissions from natural gas flaring, among other things]. The projected growth rate for US energy-related CO2 emissions has declined successively in each Annual Energy Outlook since AEO2005, reflecting both market and policy drivers (Figure 4). Emissions from motor gasoline demand in AEO2013 are lower than in AEO2012 as a result of the adoption of fuel economy standards, biofuel mandates, and shifts in consumer behavior. Emissions from coal use in the generation of electricity are lower as power generation shifts from coal to lower-carbon fuels, including natural gas and renewables. The story is somewhat more complex for natural gas. Emissions from natural gas use are higher in the industrial and electric power sectors in AEO2013 than in AEO2012 as a result of increased consumption; however, the increase is partially offset by lower emissions from natural gas use in the residential and commercial sectors in AEO2013 as a result of the implementation of efficiency standards for energy-using equipment and other changes that affect demand.

Other AEO2013 Reference case highlights:

  • The Brent spot crude oil price declines from $111 per barrel (in 2011 dollars) in 2011 to $96 per barrel in 2015. After 2015, the Brent price increases, reaching $163 per barrel in 2040, as growing demand leads to the development of more costly resources. World liquids consumption grows from 88 million bpd in 2011 to 113 million bpd in 2040, driven by demand in China, India, Brazil, and other developing economies.
  • Total US primary energy consumption grows by 7 percent in the AEO2013 Reference case, from 98 quadrillion Btu in 2011 to 108 quadrillion Btu in 2040. The fossil fuel share of primary energy consumption falls from 82 percent in 2011 to 78 percent in 2040 as consumption of petroleum-based liquid fuels falls, largely because of the incorporation of new fuel efficiency standards for LDVs.
  • In the AEO2013 Reference case, energy use per capita declines by 15 percent from 2011 through 2040 as a result of improving energy efficiency (e.g., new appliance standards and CAFE) and changes in the way energy is used in the US economy. Energy use per 2005 dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) declines by 46 percent from 2011 to 2040 in AEO2013 as a result of a continued shift from manufacturing to services (and, even within manufacturing, to less energy-intensive manufacturing industries), rising energy prices, and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency. CO2 emissions per 2005 dollar of GDP have historically tracked closely with energy use per dollar of GDP. In the AEO2013 Reference case, however, as lower-carbon fuels account for a bigger share of total energy use, CO2 emissions per 2005 dollar of GDP decline more rapidly than energy use per 2005 dollar of GDP, falling by 56 percent from 2005 to 2040, at an annual rate of 2.3 percent.
  • Net imports of energy decline both in absolute terms and as a share of total US energy consumption. The decline in energy imports reflects increased domestic petroleum and natural gas production, increased use of biofuels, and lower demand resulting from rising energy prices and the adoption of new efficiency standards for vehicles. The net import share of total US energy consumption is 9 percent in 2040, compared with 19 percent in 2011. (The share was 29 percent in 2007.)

[Editor's notes: There's a lot of data above, and I'm sure much of it is confusing to the average reader. So, I'm just going to pull out a few underlying points and add some of my own:

  • It's pretty clear that the EIA is predicting a huge natural gas boom, not just in the coming years, but the coming decades. Whether or not this will come about is unclear, but that's the track we are currently on. The EIA is quite 'biased' in its energy projections because it gives a lot of credence to what has been happening in the past year, what is happening at the moment, and not so much what is likely to happen as wind and solar policies and innovation make them more and more attractive from a financial perspective.
  • Natural gas is arguably much better than coal or oil. However, several researchers have also put up huge red flags regarding methane leaks and the true result of natural gas flaring, red flags which imply natural gas may not be so much better after all, and may not be better at all in a worst case scenario.
  • The projected increase of renewable electricity from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040 seems like a joke. If we had that small of an increase in that time, I'd be shocked. I'd bet all my savings that projection is way off. And, again, it's a result of the EIA's narrow approach to making these projections. However, it is based on something -- a US Congress that has been completely horrid at doing what the public wants, which is climate action and a strong promotion of renewable energy production. Let's hope we don't stick in a grid-locked Congress and society on this matter for long... and certainly not as long as the EIA is projecting!

Those are my main thought chime in with your own if you have them.]

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Image Source: Sam Churchill

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “The share of electricity generation from renewables grows from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040.”

    Really? That’s their prediction? 3% more renewables over 29 years? 0.1% per year?

    We’re on track to increase the non-hydro share of generation by 1.2% in 2012. Since 2006 the share of input from non-hydro renewables has increased by 0.6%, 0.6%, 0.4%, 0.6% and 0.7% in successive years and now we’re zooming to 1.2%.

    And that does not include end-user owned renewable. Those solar panels on rooftops, while not counted in our EIA electricity statistics help push down the use of fossil fuels because they lower demand.

    With rapidly falling installed solar prices we are starting to see end-user solar expanding very rapidly. Installers are reporting more business than they can handle and a shortage of experienced workers. Very large roofing companies are getting into the solar business which will further drop prices and accelerate installation rates.

    Offshore wind is about to take off. Tidal is being perfected and is likely to become a significant player in the next few years.

    Rather than 3% over 29 years I’m willing to predict that we’ll soon be installing 3% or more renewables per year.

    • Zachary Shahan

      Insane, eh?

  • JMin2020

    All in all there is room for some optimism if these predictions hold true. I’ll take some improvement where ever I can find it.

  • Ronald Brak

    Hmmm…funny how every second country appears to expect to export huge amounts of gas in the future. Australia apparently expects to massively expand gas exports despite being in the midst of a natural gas consumption slump itself. A considerable amount this slump is due to a modest drive for renewable energy and we expect to sell vast amounts of natural gas to a country that has started a massive drive for renewable energy and has a massive potential for natural gas production itself. I don’t know how much luck we’ll have with that, and I don’t know how much luck the US will have either. Unless China discovers a way to turn natural gas into breakfast cereal I think Austmerica might be in for some disapointment.

    • Zachary Shahan

      lol, nice comments :D it does seem that way…

    • wattleberry

      Judging by the taste of some of the food I had in China recently, I think they’re working on it[not to mention the noxious emissions] !

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