The Energy Information Administration has just released its Annual Energy Outlook 2013 Reference Report projecting energy consumption patterns all the way out to 2040. The report has drawn particular attention since it follows hard on the heels of the International Energy Agency’s report the week before that said tight oil production would make America the world’s top oil producer by 2020 and allow us to achieve virtual energy independence by 2030. EIA does not make the same controversial predictions in its 2013 Report but its projections do follow the same general pattern.
In this graph, energy production by different sources is represented by the different color lines. The horizontal axis is the time scale from 1980 to 2040. The vertical axis is energy production in quadrillion BTUs – “quads.”
Oil production (“liquids”) experiences a big upsurge from tight oil production, already underway. But this tops out around 2020 and then slowly declines. The biggest increase comes from natural gas, which has just passed coal as our principal source of energy and by 2040 is still climbing on a straight slope with no end in sight. EIA presumes that somewhere along the line large amounts of this natural gas will be converted to liquid fuels for transport.
Coal declines until 2020 but then resumes an upward path, mainly due to exports. Remember, this graph represents energy production, not energy consumption. Although we use less coal at home, world demand could revive the domestic industry.
Nuclear doesn’t grow much and tops out at just short of 10 quads. Hydropower stays completely flat since all the good dam sites have already been developed. The big increase comes in non-hydro renewables – wind, solar, geothermal, biomass – which climb from their present level of 2.5 quads to just over 10 quads by 2040, finally passing nuclear in the last two years.
Interestingly, the total output in 2040 adds up to just 100 quads. Today they add up to only 72 quads. But we consume 98 quads. Where did the rest come from? It represents our imported oil. We still import about one-quarter of our energy. Whether the 100 quads of energy production in 2040 will provide us with energy independence will depend on the growth in demand. The EIA's projections are represented on Charticle 3.