A Peek at Tomorrow’s Energy Outlook

When it comes to energy use, the United States is not alone, according to the Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2016.

In fact, it’s playing a smaller and smaller role as other countries affect the global energy market and, with it, the price you pay for electricity or gas at the pump.

“Developing Asia accounts for more than half of the projected increase in global energy use through 2040.” said Adam Sieminski, administrator of the Energy Information Administration. “This increase will have a profound effect on the development of world energy markets.”

EIA’s findings are aimed at helping policymakers understand the changing nature of the energy business and how global trends affect the U.S.

For the first time ever, electricity generation in developing countries is poised to pass developed nations, such as the United States, based on EIA’s projections through 2040.

In 2012, generation in countries not affiliated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a dividing line for developing nations, was slightly more than half of world electricity demand at 11.3 trillion kilowatt-hours.

That figure will nearly double nearly double by 2040 to 22.3 trillion kwh.

By comparison, net electricity generation in OECD countries will increase by just 38 percent from 10.2 trillion kwh in 2012 to 14.2 trillion kwh in 2040.

That’s because many developing nations are heavily into energy efficiency programs, which spells a break in the longtime link between economic activity and electricity demand. Demand for power is growing at a slower rate than major economic growth measures, EIA said.

“In many parts of the world, policy actions aimed at improving efficiency will help to decouple economic growth rates and electricity demand growth rates more in the future,” it said.

“The 69 percent increase in world electricity generation through 2040 is far below what it would be if economic growth and electricity demand growth maintained the same relationship they had in the recent past.”

As to the fuel mix, the outlook is positive for natural gas and renewable energy by 2040, according to EIA. Renewable generation will rise by an average of 5.7 percent per year, ahead of natural gas (2.7 percent annually), nuclear (2.4 percent annually) and coal (0.8 percent annually).

Renewable energy will take the lead in global electricity production by 2040, EIA said, just ahead of coal. If the Clean Power Plan goes into effect, it will speed up the pace of renewables in the U.S. by 58 percent by 2030, EIA said.

Solar is the world’s fastest-growing form of renewable energy, with net solar generation increasing by an average of 8.3 percent per year. However, it will still account for less than half of all renewable power by 2040, with hydroelectric power and wind energy at the top with about 1.9 trillion kwh each.

Natural gas is valuable as a baseload fuel, since it emits less carbon than other fossil-based sources. EIA said it will jump from 22 percent of all generation in 2012 to 28 percent in 2040.

“In the United States, natural gas-fired generation is encouraged by low prices and favorable greenhouse gas emission characteristics,” EIA said. “Natural gas can help in meeting [carbon dioxide] reduction goals for many countries.

Coal is not a forgotten fuel, EIA said, though it is on the wane. It accounted for 40 percent of global generation in 2012, and while it will decline to 29 percent in 2040, that’s still slightly more than the production from natural gas and represents 10.6 trillion kwh of power.

“China and India alone account for 69 percent of the projected worldwide increase in coal-fired generation, while the OECD nations continue to reduce their reliance on coal-fired electricity generation,” EIA said, noting it reduced estimates in the U.S. because of the Clean Power Plan.

Nuclear energy plays a role in the future energy mix, EIA said. Worldwide electricity generation from nuclear power increases from 2.3 trillion kwh in 2012 to 4.5 trillion kwh in 2040 “with energy security concerns and limits on greenhouse gas emissions encouraging the development of new nuclear capacity.”

Steven Johnson is a staff writer at NRECA.