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Last Updated: August 12, 2020
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Forecast Highlights

  • The August Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because mitigation and reopening efforts related to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to evolve. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy demand and supply patterns in 2020. Uncertainties persist across the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) outlook for all energy sources, including liquid fuels, natural gas, electricity, coal, and renewables. The STEO is based on U.S. macroeconomic forecasts by IHS Markit, which assume U.S. gross domestic product declined by 5.2% in the first half of 2020 from the same period a year ago and will rise from the third quarter of 2020 through 2021.
  • Daily Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $43 per barrel (b) in July, up $3/b from the average in June and up $25/b from the multiyear low monthly average price in April. EIA expects monthly Brent spot prices will average $43/b during the second half of 2020 and rise to an average of $50/b in 2021.
  • U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.18 per gallon (gal) in July, an increase of 10 cents/gal from the average in June but 56 cents/gal lower than at the same time last year. EIA expects that gasoline prices will gradually decrease through the rest of the summer to reach an average of $2.04/gal in September before falling to an average of $1.99/gal in the fourth quarter. Forecast U.S. regular gasoline retail prices will average $2.23/gal in 2021, compared with an average of $2.12/gal in 2020.
  • EIA expects high inventory levels and surplus crude oil production capacity will limit upward price pressures in the coming months, but as inventories decline into 2021, those upward price pressures will increase. EIA estimates global liquid fuels inventories rose at a rate of 6.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first half of 2020 and expects they will decline at a rate of 4.2 million b/d in the second half of 2020 and then decline by 0.8 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that demand for global petroleum and liquid fuels averaged 93.4 million b/d in July. Demand was down 9.1 million b/d from July 2019, but it was up from an average of 85.0 million b/d during the second quarter of 2020, which was down 15.8 million b/d from year-ago levels. EIA forecasts that consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels globally will average 93.1 million b/d for all of 2020, down 8.1 million b/d from 2019, before increasing by 7.0 million b/d in 2021. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy supply and demand patterns in 2020.
  • EIA estimates that global liquid fuels production averaged 91.8 million b/d in the second quarter of 2020, down 8.6 million b/d year over year. The decline reflects voluntary production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+), and reductions in drilling activity and production curtailments in the United States because of low oil prices. In the forecast, the global supply of oil continues to decline to 90.4 million b/d in the third quarter of 2020 before rising to an annual average of 99.4 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. liquid fuels consumption averaged 16.2 million b/d in the second quarter of 2020, down 4.1 million b/d (20%) from the same period in 2019. The decline reflects travel restrictions and reduced economic activity related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. EIA expects U.S. oil consumption will generally rise through the end of 2021. EIA forecasts U.S. liquid fuels consumption will average 18.9 million b/d in the third quarter of 2020 (down 1.8 million b/d year over year) before rising to an average of 20.0 million b/d in 2021. Although the 2021 forecast level is 1.6 million b/d more than EIA’s forecast 2020 consumption, it is 0.4 million b/d less than the 2019 average.
  • EIA has lowered U.S. crude oil production estimates for 2020 by 370,000 b/d from the previous STEO. EIA expects crude production to average 11.3 million b/d in 2020 and 11.1 million b/d in 2021, down from 12.2 million b/d in 2019. Recently released EIA data show that average monthly U.S. oil production for May was 1.2 million b/d lower than the July STEO forecast, indicating more extensive production curtailments than previously estimated. Also, EIA’s August STEO assumes that the Dakota Access Pipeline will remain operational. A U.S. District Court ordered on July 6 the temporary closure of the Dakota Access Pipeline beginning in early August. A U.S. appeals court has overturned the lower court decision, allowing the pipeline to remain running while further litigation proceedings continue.
  • In July, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.77 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). EIA expects natural gas prices will generally rise through the end of 2021 but the sharpest increases will be during this fall and winter when they rise from an average of $2.11/MMBtu in September to $3.14/MMBtu in February. EIA expects that rising demand heading into winter, combined with reduced production, will cause upward price pressures. EIA forecasts that Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $2.03/MMBtu in 2020 and $3.14/MMBtu in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that total U.S. working natural gas in storage ended July at about 3.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 15% more than the five-year (2015–19) average. In the forecast, inventories rise by 2.0 Tcf during the April-through-October injection season to reach nearly 4.0 Tcf on October 31.
  • EIA expects that total U.S. consumption of natural gas will average 82.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down 3.0% from 2019. The largest decline in consumption occurs in the industrial sector, which EIA forecasts will average 22.0 Bcf/d in 2020, down 1.0 Bcf/d from 2019, as a result of reduced manufacturing activity. The decline in total U.S. consumption also reflects lower heating demand in early 2020, contributing to residential and commercial demand in 2020 averaging 12.8 Bcf/d (down 0.9 Bcf/d from 2019) and 8.8 Bcf/d (down 0.8 Bcf/d from 2019), respectively.
  • U.S. dry natural gas production set an annual record in 2019, averaging 92.2 Bcf/d. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 88.7 Bcf/d in 2020, with monthly production falling from its monthly average peak of 96.2 Bcf/d in November 2019 to 82.7 Bcf/d by April 2021, before increasing slightly. Natural gas production declines the most in the Permian region, where EIA expects low crude oil prices will reduce associated natural gas output from oil-directed rigs. EIA’s forecast of dry natural gas production in the United States averages 84.0 Bcf/d in 2021. EIA expects production to begin rising in the second quarter of 2021 in response to higher natural gas and crude oil prices.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will average 5.5 Bcf/d in 2020 and will average 7.3 Bcf/d in 2021. EIA expects that U.S. LNG exports will decline through the end of the summer as a result of reduced global demand for natural gas. U.S. exports of LNG in July 2020 averaged 3.1 Bcf/d, which is about the same as in May 2018, when the available liquefaction capacity was about one-third of the current capacity. Declines in global natural gas demand associated with COVID-19 mitigation efforts, high natural gas storage inventories in Europe and Asia, and an on-going expansion in LNG liquefaction capacity have contributed to natural gas and LNG prices reaching all-time historical lows. Low international prices have affected the economic competitiveness of U.S. LNG exports and have led to numerous cargo cancellations, particularly at the Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi, and Freeport LNG export terminals. EIA expects LNG exports from the United States to remain low in the next few months. Based on numerous trade press reports, EIA estimates about 45 cargoes have been canceled for upcoming August shipments and about 30 cargoes have been canceled for September shipments.
  • EIA forecasts 3.6% less electricity consumption in the United States in 2020 compared with 2019. The largest decline on a percentage basis is in the commercial sector, where EIA expects retail sales of electricity to fall by 7.4% this year. Forecast industrial retail electricity sales fall by 5.8%. EIA forecasts residential sector retail sales will increase by 2.0% in 2020. Milder winter temperatures earlier in the year led to lower consumption for space heating, but that factor is offset by increased summer cooling demand and an assumed increase in electricity use by more people working from home. In 2021, EIA forecasts total U.S. electricity consumption will rise by 0.8%.
  • EIA expects the share of U.S. electric power sector generation from natural gas-fired power plants will increase from 37% in 2019 to 40% this year. In 2021, the forecast natural gas share declines to 35% in response to higher natural gas prices. Coal’s forecast share of electricity generation falls from 24% in 2019 to 18% in 2020 and then increases to 22% in 2021. Electricity generation from renewable energy sources rises from 17% in 2019 to 20% in 2020 and to 22% in 2021. The increase in the share from renewables is the result of expected additions to wind and solar generating capacity. EIA expects a decline in nuclear generation in both 2020 and 2021, reflecting recent and upcoming retirements of nuclear generating capacity.
  • EIA forecasts that renewable energy will be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020. EIA expects the electric power sector will add 23.2 gigawatts (GW) of new wind capacity and 12.9 GW of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020. However, these future capacity additions are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, and EIA continues to monitor reported planned capacity builds.
  • U.S. coal consumption, which dropped to its lowest point since April, totaled 95 MMst in the second quarter of 2020. EIA expects coal consumption to rise to a seasonal peak of 127 MMst in the third quarter but remain lower than 2019 levels through the end of 2020. EIA estimates that U.S. coal consumption will decrease by 26% in 2020 and increase by 20% in 2021. EIA estimates that total U.S. coal production in 2020 will decrease by 29% from 2019 levels to 502 MMst. In 2021, EIA expects higher demand and rising natural gas prices to a lead to a recovery in coal production of 12%, with a total annual production level of 564 MMst.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, after decreasing by 2.8% in 2019, will decrease by 11.5% (588 million metric tons) in 2020. This record decline is the result of less energy consumption related to restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. CO2 emissions decline with reduced consumption of all fossil fuels, particularly coal (24.9%) and petroleum (11.6%). In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 5.6%, as the economy recovers and stay-at-home orders are lifted. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.

STEO Forecast Covid-19 Short Term Energy Outlook EIA USA gas oil coal consumption demand supply oil prices market Brent
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Average U.S. construction costs for solar and wind generation continue to fall

According to 2018 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for newly constructed utility-scale electric generators in the United States, annual capacity-weighted average construction costs for solar photovoltaic systems and onshore wind turbines have continued to decrease. Natural gas generator costs also decreased slightly in 2018.

From 2013 to 2018, costs for solar fell 50%, costs for wind fell 27%, and costs for natural gas fell 13%. Together, these three generation technologies accounted for more than 98% of total capacity added to the electricity grid in the United States in 2018. Investment in U.S. electric-generating capacity in 2018 increased by 9.3% from 2017, driven by natural gas capacity additions.

Solar
The average construction cost for solar photovoltaic generators is higher than wind and natural gas generators on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis, although the gap is narrowing as the cost of solar falls rapidly. From 2017 to 2018, the average construction cost of solar in the United States fell 21% to $1,848 per kilowatt (kW). The decrease was driven by falling costs for crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels, which were at their lowest average construction cost of $1,767 per kW in 2018.

Crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels—which accounted for more than one-third of the solar capacity added in the United States in 2018, at 1.7 gigawatts (GW)—had the second-highest share of solar capacity additions by technology. Crystalline silicon axis-based tracking panels had the highest share, with 2.0 GW (41% of total solar capacity additions) of added generating capacity at an average cost of $1,834 per kW.

average construction costs for solar photovoltaic electricity generators

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

Wind
Total U.S. wind capacity additions increased 18% from 2017 to 2018 as the average construction cost for wind turbines dropped 16% to $1,382 per kW. All wind farm size classes had lower average construction costs in 2018. The largest decreases were at wind farms with 1 megawatt (MW) to 25 MW of capacity; construction costs at these farms decreased by 22.6% to $1,790 per kW.

average construction costs for wind farms

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

Natural gas
Compared with other generation technologies, natural gas technologies received the highest U.S. investment in 2018, accounting for 46% of total capacity additions for all energy sources. Growth in natural gas electric-generating capacity was led by significant additions in new capacity from combined-cycle facilities, which almost doubled the previous year’s additions for that technology. Combined-cycle technology construction costs dropped by 4% in 2018 to $858 per kW.

average construction costs for natural gas-fired electricity generators

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

September, 17 2020
Fossil fuels account for the largest share of U.S. energy production and consumption

Fossil fuels, or energy sources formed in the Earth’s crust from decayed organic material, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal, continue to account for the largest share of energy production and consumption in the United States. In 2019, 80% of domestic energy production was from fossil fuels, and 80% of domestic energy consumption originated from fossil fuels.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes the U.S. total energy flow diagram to visualize U.S. energy from primary energy supply (production and imports) to disposition (consumption, exports, and net stock additions). In this diagram, losses that take place when primary energy sources are converted into electricity are allocated proportionally to the end-use sectors. The result is a visualization that associates the primary energy consumed to generate electricity with the end-use sectors of the retail electricity sales customers, even though the amount of electric energy end users directly consumed was significantly less.

U.S. primary energy production by source

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

The share of U.S. total energy production from fossil fuels peaked in 1966 at 93%. Total fossil fuel production has continued to rise, but production has also risen for non-fossil fuel sources such as nuclear power and renewables. As a result, fossil fuels have accounted for about 80% of U.S. energy production in the past decade.

Since 2008, U.S. production of crude oil, dry natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) has increased by 15 quadrillion British thermal units (quads), 14 quads, and 4 quads, respectively. These increases have more than offset decreasing coal production, which has fallen 10 quads since its peak in 2008.

U.S. primary energy overview and net imports share of consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded energy consumption for the first time since 1957, and U.S. energy exports exceeded energy imports for the first time since 1952. U.S. energy net imports as a share of consumption peaked in 2005 at 30%. Although energy net imports fell below zero in 2019, many regions of the United States still import significant amounts of energy.

Most U.S. energy trade is from petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products), which accounted for 69% of energy exports and 86% of energy imports in 2019. Much of the imported crude oil is processed by U.S. refineries and is then exported as petroleum products. Petroleum products accounted for 42% of total U.S. energy exports in 2019.

U.S. primary energy consumption by source

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

The share of U.S. total energy consumption that originated from fossil fuels has fallen from its peak of 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2019. The total amount of fossil fuels consumed in the United States has also fallen from its peak of 86 quads in 2007. Since then, coal consumption has decreased by 11 quads. In 2019, renewable energy consumption in the United States surpassed coal consumption for the first time. The decrease in coal consumption, along with a 3-quad decrease in petroleum consumption, more than offset an 8-quad increase in natural gas consumption.

EIA previously published articles explaining the energy flows of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity. More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.

Principal contributor: Bill Sanchez

September, 15 2020
Nord Stream 2: Democratic Ideals or Business Reality

It was an innocuous set of words published in a newspaper in Germany on Sunday. “I hope the Russian do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2”, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying. A day after that, Angela Merkel also issued a single sentence: “The German Chancellor agrees with the Foreign Minister’s comments from the weekend.” Simple words with a bold message. And potentially devastating consequences.

The incident that hardened the hearts of Germany , which had become increasingly isolated over the issue of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that connects Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, was the hospitalisation of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Airlifted to Berlin following a medically-induced coma, German doctors concluded that Navalny, who is no stranger to intimidation tactics by the Putin government, was the victim of the Novichok nerve agent. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it made headlines in 2018 over the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK. A lethal nerve agent developed in the 1970s in Soviet Russia, Novichok is among the deadliest poisons ever developed and is banned under the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Kremlin, predictably, denies involvement in the alleged poisoning, dismissing the German allegations as untrue.

That this could be the straw that broke the Nord Stream 2 back is perhaps surprising. The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline has survived many obstacles. Many, many obstacles. The sequel to the original 1,222km Nord Stream that was inaugurated in November 2011, Nord Stream 2 will add 1,230km more pipeline between Vyborg in Russia and Lubin in Germany, with nearly all of the entire 2,452km length already being laid. Championed by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and inherited by Merkel, the Nord Stream pipelines were developed to meet Germany’s growing energy demand, as it moved away from burning coal and nuclear fission. However, it has attracted criticism from many quarters. From Germany’s neighbours including Poland, Denmark and Estonia concerned over the pipeline that passes through their waters. From the EU, concerned about making Germany too energy dependent from a ‘politically unreliable’ country. From the US, which has threatened and, indeed, imposed sanctions on companies involved in the project. Some would argue that the vociferous US involvement, championed by President Donald Trump is self-serving, meant to allow US energy exports to muscle in, but it still fits neatly into Germany’s Russian dependence issue.

Throughout all this drama, Angela Merkel has stood firm. She, and her centre-right party CDU, have supported Nord Stream somewhat unenthusiastically with the primary concerns being the business element. It will unravel Germany’s plans to become a natural gas hub, as it tries to drive an EU movement towards cleaner energy. Many of Germany’s largest companies,  include petrochemicals giant BASF and its energy arm Wintershall are also heavily invested in Nord Stream and the raw gas it will bring. It would also be a reputational risk to pull the plug on a project that is almost complete and set to be launched by the year’s end, and still leaves the critical question on how Germany will be able to address its energy deficit.

The business argument has overridden political concerns so far. But now a moral imperative has arisen through the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, with his subsequent medical treatment in Berlin. This resonates in Germany particularly, since the country understands the historical consequences of authoritarian governments and the dangers it bring. The shifting of the political landscape, especially the rise of the Green Party has triggered a ferocious debate with high-ranking politicians from both the left and right calling for the project to be scrapped. Some are even arguing that Nord Stream 2 gas supply is no longer necessary, as the country’s energy requirements are now fundamentally shifting in a post-Covid 19 world.

If, and that is a very big if, the Nord Stream 2 is scrapped, that is at least US$9.4 billion down the drain and plenty more in collateral damage from peripheral activities. It will rock the boat when the usual Merkel instinct is to steady it. But the furore over an attempted assassination by one of the world’s deadliest methods no less, might be a stand that Germany is willing to take. After all, it knows first-hand the effects of an iron fist. Berlin has so far stood alone in advancing Nord Stream 2, even after the chorus of critics surrounding it grow louder and louder. If it were to kill the project, Germany could find plenty of supporters for that move and would be more than happy to offer themselves up as a role to scupper this ship. The options are varied, but one question remains that will influence the whole issue: how is Angela Merkel willing to go to take a stand over democratic ideals or business reality?

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$39-41/b, WTI – US$36-38/b
  • A second global acceleration in Covid-19 cases is hampering hopes that the worldwide economy will be able to return to normality by the year’s end, delaying the time it will take for crude demand to return to its pre-crisis level
  • With the summer driving season in the northern hemisphere coming to a close, US crude stockpiles are rising, driving down prices even though the US EIA raised its forecasts for 2020 to US$38.99 for WTI and US$41.90 for Brent
  • The downturn in prices was also driven by Saudi Arabia cutting its crude pricing for October sales by a larger-than-expected amount, especially for Asian shipments

END OF ARTICLE

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September, 15 2020