Environmental Protection

EIA Examines Alternate Scenarios for the Future of U.S. Energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) today released the complete version of Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO2012) which, in addition to the Reference case projections, includes 29 alternative cases which show how different assumptions regarding market, policy, and technology drivers affect projections of energy production, consumption, technology, and market trends and the direction they may take in the future.

"Uncertainty is inherent in long-term projections," said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski. "By modeling scenarios using a range of assumptions about market, policy, and technology drivers, we gain a better understanding of the potential impacts in critical areas of uncertainty."

Key results highlighted in AEO2012 include:

The rate of growth in energy use slows over the projection period, reflecting moderate population growth, an extended economic recovery, and increasing energy efficiency in end-use applications

Overall U.S. energy consumption grows at an average annual rate of 0.3 percent from 2010 through 2035 in the AEO2012 Reference case. The U.S. does not return to the levels of energy demand growth experienced in the 20 years prior to the 2008-2009 recession, because of more moderate projected economic growth and population growth, coupled with increasing levels of energy efficiency and rising energy prices.

Existing Federal and State energy requirements and incentives play a continuing role in requiring more efficient technologies. New Federal and State policies could lead to further reductions in energy consumption. The potential impact of technology change and the proposed vehicle fuel efficiency standards on energy consumption are examined in several cases in the AEO2012.

Domestic crude oil production increases

Domestic crude oil production has increased over the past few years, reversing a decline that began in 1986. U.S. crude oil production increased from 5.0 million barrels per day in 2008 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010. Over the next 10 years, continued development of tight oil, in combination with the ongoing development of offshore resources in the Gulf of Mexico, pushes domestic crude oil production higher.

Because the technology advances that have provided for recent increases in supply are still in the early stages of development, future U.S. crude oil production could vary significantly, depending on the outcomes of key uncertainties related to well placement and recovery rates. Those uncertainties are highlighted in several cases completed as part of AEO2012 and discussed in an article examining impacts of uncertainty about current estimates of the crude oil and natural gas resources.

With modest economic growth, increased efficiency, growing domestic production, and continued adoption of nonpetroleum liquids, net imports of petroleum and other liquids make up a smaller share of total U.S. energy consumption

U.S. dependence on imported petroleum and other liquids declines in the AEO2012 Reference case, primarily as a result of rising energy prices; growth in domestic crude oil production to more than 1 million barrels per day above 2010 levels in 2020; an increase of 1.2 million barrels per day crude oil equivalent from 2010 to 2035 in the use of biofuels, much of which is produced domestically; and slower growth of energy consumption in the transportation sector as a result of existing corporate average fuel economy standards.

Proposed light-duty vehicle fuel economy standards covering vehicle model years 2017 through 2025, which are not included in the Reference case, could further reduce demand for petroleum and other liquids and the need for imports, and increased supplies from U.S. tight oil deposits could also significantly decrease the need for imports as examined in several cases in AEO2012.

Natural gas production increases throughout the projection period, allowing the United States to transition from a net importer to a net exporter of natural gas

Much of the growth in natural gas production in the AEO2012 Reference case results from the application of recent technological advances and continued drilling in shale plays with high concentrations of natural gas liquids and crude oil, which have a higher value than dry natural gas. Shale gas production increases in the Reference case from 5.0 trillion cubic feet per year in 2010 (23 percent of total U.S. dry gas production) to 13.6 trillion cubic feet per year in 2035 (49 percent of total U.S. dry gas production). As a result of the projected growth in production, U.S. natural gas production exceeds consumption early in the next decade in the Reference case. The outlook reflects increased use of LNG in markets outside North America, strong growth in domestic natural gas production, reduced pipeline imports and increased pipeline exports, and relatively low natural gas prices in the United States.

When looking forward to 2035 there are unresolved uncertainties surrounding the technological advances that have made shale gas production a reality. The potential impact of those uncertainties results in a range of outcomes for U.S. shale gas production from 9.7 to 20.5 trillion cubic feet per year when looking forward to 2035. Those uncertainties and their impact are examined in several cases that are summarized in an article in AEO2012.

Power generation from renewables and natural gas continues to increase

In the Reference case, the natural gas share of electric power generation increases from 24 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2035, while the renewables share grows from 10 percent to 15 percent. In contrast, the share of generation from coal-fired power plants declines. The historical reliance on coal-fired power plants in the U.S. electric power sector has begun to wane in recent years. Over the next 25 years, the share of electricity generation from coal falls to 38 percent, well below the 48-percent share seen as recently as 2008, due to slow growth in electricity demand, increased competition from natural gas and renewable generation, and the need to reduce emissions.

Although the current trend toward increased use of natural gas and renewables appears fairly robust, there is uncertainty about the factors influencing the fuel mix for electricity generation. AEO2012 includes several cases examining the impacts on coal-fired plant generation and retirements resulting from different paths for electricity demand growth, coal and natural gas prices, and compliance with environmental rules.

Total energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States remain below their 2005 level through 2035

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO 2) emissions grow slowly in the AEO2012 Reference case, due to a combination of modest economic growth, growing use of renewable technologies and fuels, efficiency improvements, slow growth in electricity demand, and increased use of natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than other fossil fuels.

Projections for CO 2 emissions are sensitive to economic and regulatory factors. These linkages result in a range of potential GHG emissions scenarios. In the AEO2012 Low and High Economic Growth cases, projections for total primary energy consumption in 2035 are, respectively, 100.0 quadrillion Btu (6.4 percent below the Reference case) and 114.4 quadrillion Btu (7.0 percent above the Reference case), and projections for energy-related CO 2 emissions in 2035 are 5,356 million metric tons (7.0 percent below the Reference case) and 6,117 million metric tons (6.2 percent above the Reference case).

The projections from the complete AEO2012, including the Reference case, all of the alternative cases, and supplemental tables showing the regional projections, can be found at: www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo.

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