Author:  lulia Gheorghiu            Published: 01/30/2020         Utility Dive

Credit Getty Images

Dive Brief:

  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its annual outlook on Wednesday, including projections for a modest overall decline in power sector carbon emissions, with natural gas as the leading source of generation through 2040.
  • The continued low price of natural gas is expected to increase emissions, making carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 only 4% below 2019 levels, assuming constant laws and regulations. According to the outlook, carbon dioxide emissions across all sectors will flatline in 2030 until beginning to increase in 2040, based on the growing power consumption of industrial and transportation sectors.
  • Investor-owned utility trade group Edison Electric Institute (EEI) maintains that power sector and overall emissions reductions will be even greater than what EIA forecast based on clean energy commitments made by companies (including EEI members) and accelerating transportation electrification. “We expect more significant emissions reductions will occur,” Brian Reil, EEI spokesperson, told Utility Dive.

Dive Insight:

As EIA’s model uses the policies in place right now to create future projections through 2050, a “business as usual assumption drives the reference case, … [and] makes [EIA] projections of energy very conservative,” Peter Saundry, Johns Hopkins University professor and chief scientist of the nonprofit National Council for Science and the Environment, told Utility Dive.

“Their model is not set up to recognize evolving advances in policy or strong advances in technology,” he said, echoing EIA administrator Linda Capuano’s comments that the outlook is a projection, “not a prediction.”

Credit: EIA

While the announced retirements of coal-fired generation capacity create a decrease in power sector emissions, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are expected to grow modestly in 2030s-2040s, according to the EIA, as continued natural gas additions and nuclear retirements offset increases in renewable generation.

The analysis doesn’t take into account additional expected coal plant retirements and future state initiatives to reduce emissions.

“One area where EIA is fairly pessimistic is the rollout of EVs,” Saundry said. “That has a lot to do with fairly conservative assumptions about how fast the cost of battery energy storage comes down.”

According to EIA’s transportation team leader, John Maple, not a lot of change is expected between the 2019 and 2020 sales distribution of electric vehicles. Longer range (200- and 300-mile) U.S. EV sales will grow from 280,000 in 2019 to 1.9 million in 2050, the EIA said.​

With the Trump administration working to block California from setting more ambitious fuel economy standards than the federal government, the EIA predicts motor gasoline consumption will rise.

But “regardless of that standard, I see EVs making a more aggressive inroad because I foresee a cost decline of energy storage,” Saundry said.

Others, like EEI, also dispute the EIA’s projection.

EEI has been lobbying for an increase in the tax credit for electric vehicle purchases, while supporting the development of utility-owned charging infrastructure for the vehicles.

“As of December 31, 2019, there were nearly 1.5 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads, and we project that number to increase to 18.7 million by 2030,” Reil said.