What Does the Future Hold for Energy Use in America?

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, AER Energy Perspectives and MER.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, AER Energy Perspectives and MER.

After declining for several years in a row, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions grew by 2% in 2013. This was largely due to an increase in the use of coal by electric power plants in the U.S., after a rise in the price of natural gas.

While this still left the U.S. 10% below 2005 levels, it is a move in the wrong direction. These findings follow President Obama’s recent second term push for national action on climate change, and call for an increase in the use of renewable energy sources.  This begs the question: What does the future hold for energy use in America?  Let’s break it down.

Coal: The above numbers came from a study by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) which found that coal supplied about 37 percent of U.S. electricity in 2012. This rebound for the coal industry is expected to be temporary, as new pollution regulations, which affect coal the most since coal produces almost twice as much CO2 than natural gas, and necessary maintenance will make sustaining coal burning plants unfeasibleCoal’s future as a dominant energy source seems to be on the outs.

Oil and Natural Gas: The U.S. was recently named the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas in 2013. The EIA finds that the three major fossil fuels of oil, coal and natural gas are expected to dominate energy use in America for the foreseeable future, with oil and natural gas accounting for an ever increasing majority. As hydraulic fracturing booms across the U.S., natural gas costs almost a quarter of what it does in other countries. With oil and natural gas accounting for around 60% of U.S. energy consumption in recent years, and coal on the decline, it seems that oil and natural gas are here to stay.

Renewables: Obama made it clear that increasing the use of renewable energy sources in the U.S. is a priority; while renewables account for only 7% of current federal government energy use, the goal is for that number to rise to 20% by 2020. Energy consumption for the nation as a whole comes from less than 7% renewable sources. With cheap natural gas on the market, it seems that renewables would be much less attractive, but some analysts think that this could actually help the transition to wind and solar by providing an alternative when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Also, investing in renewable energy is often just as profitable as investing in traditional energy sources, it just requires a large initial investment. Yet, while renewable energy is on the rise, it is not expected to account for more than 11% of U.S. energy use by 2040.

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James McComas

I bring a background in researching and writing to the Campaign Consultation team for my role as Administrative and Project Assistant. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I was a research intern for BUS 52, a year-long project which sought out organizations and individuals across the continental United States who worked to positively change their communities in innovative ways. I also assisted a journalist researching climate change issues. Read more.

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