EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2022: Renewables, Fossil Fuels and Emissions

Michael Tobias
Author : Michael Tobias
March 22, 2022
5 Minutes Read
  
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    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    - The US Energy Information Administration published the Annual Energy Outlook 2022 in March, modeling consumption and emissions through 2050.

    - Petroleum and natural gas will remain the two largest energy sources in the US by 2050, but renewables will have the highest growth rate.

    - Emissions will continue to decline until the mid-2030s, before bouncing back slightly but without returning to 2021 levels.

    - Among renewable sources, wind and solar power will continue growing at a fast pace through 2050. Hydroelectricity, biomass and geothermal power will not experience significant growth.

    - EIA modeling results show that coal consumption will continue to drop, while the consumption of natural gas and liquid fuels will keep growing.

    - The generation share of renewables will increase from 21% to 44% during 2022-2050, while fossil fuels will decrease from 60% to 44%.

    The US Energy Information Administration is constantly gathering and analyzing data about energy markets. Their Annual Energy Outlook 2022 presents a mixed picture for the period 2022-2050. Solar and wind power will be the fastest growing electricity sources, reducing the total carbon footprint of the power sector. However, petroleum and gas consumption will also keep growing, but at a slower pace than renewable sources.


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    Thanks to the growth of renewable  sources and reduced coal consumption, US emissions are currently decreasing. The US economy is also becoming more efficient, reducing its energy input per unit of economic output. This trend will continue until 2037 according to EIA models, but emissions will then start to increase again, due to economic growth and a larger population. In other words, US emissions are currently under the effect of opposing market forces.

    The Future of Renewable Energy in the US

    solar and wind-2

    EIA modeling results show a promising outlook for renewable sources: their share of total generation could reach 44% by 2050, up from 21% in 2021. Solar PV systems and other forms of distributed generation will cover 8% of residential electricity consumption by 2050, and 6% of commercial consumption. The following table compares the four main electricity sources in the US, comparing their current and future percentage of generation:

    Energy Source

    2021 Generation Share

    2050 Generation Share

    Renewables

    21%

    44%

    Natural gas

    37%

    34%

    Nuclear

    19%

    12%

    Coal

    23%

    10%

    Note that the percentage of natural gas generation drops from 37% to 34%, but overall capacity will continue increasing between 2022 and 2050. The percentage share of the US power mix decreases because renewables are growing faster, but natural gas will remain a major electricity source in the next few decades. The combined generation share of natural gas and coal decreases from 60% in 2021 to 44% in 2050. In other words, renewables and fossil fuels will have the same share of total generation by 2050.

    The US EIA also modeled electricity generation for each renewable source, finding that solar power will have the highest growth. Solar power currently accounts for 19% of renewable generation, but this value will reach 51% by 2050. Keep in mind that this table shows the percentage shares of renewable generation (not total generation).

    Renewable Source

    2021 Generation Share

    2050 Generation Share

    Solar

    19%

    51%

    Wind

    43%

    31%

    Geothermal

    2%

    2%

    Hydroelectricity

    30%

    12%

    Others

    7%

    4%

    Consider that total generation capacity will increase, and a lower percentage does not mean a lower generation capacity. For example, the US wind power capacity will continue to grow between 2022 and 2050, but its percentage share becomes smaller because solar power grows faster. The contribution of hydroelectricity will remain almost unchanged through 2050, but its percentage share is smaller due to the growth of other renewables.

    Energy storage capacity will also increase, especially as the technology becomes more affordable. However, the US EIA did not consider energy storage in the results above: it represents a change in energy consumption patterns, but not an increase in total generation.

    US Fossil Fuel Consumption and Carbon Emissions

    natural gas-2

    Considering all sectors of the US economy, petroleum will remain as the leading energy source through 2050, followed by natural gas. Renewable sources will have a much higher growth than fossil fuels between 2022 and 2050, but not enough to take the lead. Coal consumption is decreasing, but petroleum and oil consumption are on the rise.

    • Coal-related emissions will steadily decrease between 2021 and 2050.
    • Coal currently represents 22% of energy-related CO2 emissions, but this drops to 14% in 2037 and 13% in 2050 according to EIA models.

    Carbon emissions are currently decreasing in the US, in great part thanks to the growth of renewables in the power sector. EIA models predict 4.5 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 by 2037, which is 6% below 2021 levels. However, this trend will then be reversed due to demographic and economic growth. Energy-related CO2 emissions could climb back to 4.7 billion metric tons by 2050, which is only 2% below 2021 levels. The EIA is assuming a population growth of 0.4% per year, and an economic growth of 2.2% per year. The US economy will reduce its energy intensity by 41% by 2050, helping mitigate the growth of emissions.

    In general, the US will increase its consumption of renewable energy, natural gas, petroleum and other liquid fuels by 2050. At the same time, the US will decrease its usage of nuclear and coal power. Hydroelectricity will remain at the same level, and the usage of biofuels will increase slightly.

    Tags renewable energy | Solar Power | wind power | natural gas | carbon emissions | fossil fuels

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