Which Projection Do You Believe? – Watts Up With That?


/ Francis Menton

What will energy production and consumption look like in the United States in 2050? There are two very different answers to that question.

On Side One are those who claim that we are facing a “climate crisis” that can only be addressed through the rapid and forced cessation of fossil fuel production and use. Thus, some combination of government coercion, investor pressure, and voluntary institutional action will soon drive coal, oil, and natural gas out of the energy market, to be replaced by carbon-free “renewables.” And so by 2050 we will have achieved the utopia of “net zero” carbon emissions.

Those on Side Two think that the vision of Side One is a completely unrealistic fantasy. Simple arithmetic shows that without massive energy storage, no amount of building wind and solar generators can make a big difference in the use of fossil fuels for electricity production; and adequate energy storage devices to fill the gap don’t even exist as a technical matter, let alone at remotely reasonable cost. Result: No matter what the big boys say, fossil fuel production and use in 2050 will be as high or higher than it is now.

Which side do you think is correct?

At the moment, all the Great and the Good seem to have planted their flags on Side One. President Biden leaves no doubt about his position. Through a press release dated April 22, 2021, Biden committed the US to a “net zero” economy by 2050:

On day one, President Biden delivered on his promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement and set a course for the United States to address the climate crisis at home and abroad, reaching economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.

And by various Executive Orders, Biden has the entire federal bureaucracy committed to the fossil fuel phase-out project, from halting drilling to blocking pipelines to dismantling power plants.

In the world of investing, all the biggest banks and money managers are on board. Here is a link to the “Road to Net Zero” webpage of BlackRock, the nation’s largest mutual fund manager. concise quote:

We believe that the transition to a world with net zero emissions is a shared responsibility of all citizens, corporations and governments. . . . In January 2021, we committed to supporting a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, announcing a series of steps to help our customers navigate the transition.

And it goes without saying that the academic world has joined Side One with complete unanimity. After all, these are the “smartest” people; and the “smarter” people know that the “climate crisis” can only be solved by phasing out fossil fuels. Here is a representative statement from Yale University President Peter Salovey, June 24, 2021:

To avoid the most severe results of climate change, experts recommend taking immediate action to achieve net carbon neutrality around the world within the next three decades. Yale will become a net zero carbon campus in less than half that time. Along our path to zero real emissions by 2050, we expect to reduce our real emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2035.

So surely, with this kind of unanimous agreement from the top, backed by the full force of coercion from the federal government, fossil fuels will be completely gone by 2050.

Perhaps before relying too heavily on that conclusion, we should check with the Energy Information Administration. The EIA is the part of the federal Department of Energy that provides data and statistics on US energy production and consumption, both historical and projected. Once a year, usually in March, they issue what they call their Annual Energy Outlook, or AEO. AEO2022 just came out on March 3. The AEO2022 home page provides a host of links that can keep you busy for hours if you have the inclination.

The incredible thing about this AEO is that it is as if no one told you that fossil fuels are about to be phased out. Basically, they treat the whole clamor of “net zero by 2050” as background noise. For example, what is the EIA’s view of US natural gas consumption between now and 2050? That’s on this chart:

Net zero anyone? Instead, it looks like slow but steady growth throughout the projection period.

What about US crude oil production? Surely that will plummet towards zero well before 2050. Not according to the EIA:

Basically, they predict that US crude production will increase substantially in the next few years, and then level off and stay there until 2050.

To be fair, the two graphs above represent what they call their “reference case.” They have other graphs that show cases of high production/consumption and also cases of low production/consumption. However, the high cases are driven by high prices and the low cases are driven by low prices. There is no perceptible effect on the EIA projections as a result of regulatory suppression, much less awakened investors or pompous pronouncements from academia.

One of my favorite charts is this one that covers projected sales of “light vehicles,” also known as automobiles.

And did you think buying anything but a fully electric vehicle would be illegal by 2030? The EIA projection is that, even by 2050, fully electric vehicles will not have reached 10% of the market, while fully gasoline vehicles will still have a market share of around 75%.

Numerous other links on the AEO2022 introduction page make for fascinating reading, essentially contradicting everything coming out of the White House about our energy future. For example, there is “EIA projects US energy-related CO2 emissions to fall in the short term and then rise.” In other words, claims of “net zero emissions” by 2050 are just baloney. Or there is “Oil and natural gas are the most widely used fuels in the United States through 2050.”

Read the entire publication here.

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