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Last Updated: January 30, 2020
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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release updated projections of future U.S. energy production and use in its Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (AEO2020) today at 11:00 a.m. ET. The AEO2020 Reference case, which serves as a baseline for exploring the effects of different assumptions about the economy, policy, and technology, projects renewables to be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation through 2050, driven by continued declines in the capital costs for solar and wind technologies. Slow growth in U.S. energy consumption, as a result of continued increases in energy efficiency, and technologically enabled growth in domestic oil and natural gas production lead the United States to remain a net energy exporter through 2050.

The AEO2020 Reference case projects domestic energy demand to grow 0.3% per year on average through 2050, slower than the average annual growth of 1.9% in U.S. gross domestic product. This projection is largely driven by continued increases in energy efficiency in the end-use sectors. Gains in appliance efficiency in the residential and commercial sectors, increases in efficiency of new capital equipment in the industrial sector, and increases in fuel economy partially offset the growth in the number of households, industrial activity, and vehicle-miles traveled.

energy consumption by sector

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

The AEO2020 Reference case also projects the share of U.S. electricity generation from renewable sources to double from 19% of total generation in 2019 to 38% by 2050. Solar contributes the most to the growth, more than tripling from 14% of total renewable generation in 2019 to 46% by 2050. Although coal and nuclear generation decline through the mid-2020s as a result of capacity retirements, their generation stabilizes over the longer term as the more economically viable plants remain in service.

electricity generation from selected fuels

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

At the same time, the United States continues to produce historically high levels of crude oil and natural gas. In the AEO2020 Reference case, U.S. crude oil production continues to set annual records through the mid-2020s and remains near 14.0 million barrels per day (b/d) through the mid-2040s. EIA projects U.S. dry natural gas production will reach 45 trillion cubic feet by 2050. The continued development of tight oil and shale gas resources supports growth in these fuels.

AEO2020 crude oil production

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

With the production growth outpacing growth in domestic consumption of crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas, U.S. net exports of these fuels increase. In the Reference case, the United States will continue to export more petroleum and other liquids than it imports, with a peak at more than 3.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in the early 2030s before gradually declining to 0.2 million b/d in 2050 as domestic consumption slowly rises. U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and natural gas pipeline exports to Canada and to Mexico continue to rise through the 2020s before flattening for the remainder of the projection period.

After falling in the first half of the projection period, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resume modest growth in the 2030s, but they remain lower than 2019 levels through 2050. Until about 2030, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions decrease as a result of retirements of coal-fired generation capacity and corresponding changes in the mix of fuels consumed by the electric power sector. After 2030, increases in energy demand in the other sectors—predominantly transportation and industrial—result in increases in emissions.

AEO2020 U.S. energy-related co2 emissions

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

EIA’s AEO2020 also includes eight side cases that show the effects of changing key model assumptions, including two new cases (High Renewables Cost and Low Renewables Cost) that explore the uncertainty of future costs of renewable power generation technologies on U.S. electricity markets. The Issues in Focus article to be released later today with the AEO2020 discusses the results of these new cases.

production supply consumption demand AEO Annual Energy Outlook
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In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

End of Article

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$71-73/b, WTI – US$68-70/b
  • Global crude benchmarks have stayed steady, even as OPEC+ sticks to its plans to ease supply quotas against the uncertainty of rising Covid-19 cases worldwide
  • However, the success of vaccination drives has kindled hope that the effect of lockdowns – if any – will be mild, with pockets of demand resurgence in Europe; in China, where there has been a zero-tolerance drive to stamp out Covid outbreaks, fuel consumption is strengthening again, possibly tightening fuel balances in Q4
  • Meanwhile, much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude production remains hampered by the effects of Hurricane Ida, providing a counter-balance on the supply side

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