Opinion: Six different energy trends, landmarks and facts

energy trends
To celebrate his 1000th Twitter follower, Matt Chester published a blog on May 10 describing the six different ways that the number 1,000 is weaving through energy trends today. Statoil photo by Ole Jørgen Bratland.

To celebrate his 1000th Twitter follower, on his Chester Energy and Policy blog, Matt Chester published an article on May 10 describing the six different ways that the number 1,000 is weaving through energy trends today. Statoil photo.  Statoil photo by Ole Jørgen Bratland.

Wind power is one of the frontrunners in 2018 energy trends

By Matt Chester

This article was published on the Chester Energy and Policy blog on May 10, 2018.

1,000 gigawatt-hours per day from non-hydro renewables

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts out the Short-Term Energy Outlook every month, providing a treasure trove of data on all things energy, both historical data and forecasts for the next two years. One number that many in the energy industry have been keeping an eye on is electricity generation from non-hydropower renewables (i.e., wind, solar, geothermal, wood biomass, and waste biomass).

Hydropower in the United States has remained relatively flat for several decades, with no expectations of significant growth in the near future beyond what is already installed. However, non-hydropower renewables have grown and continue to grow at a rapid pace. According to EIA data, 2017 was the first year where non-hydropower renewable energy generation exceed 1,000 gigawatt-hours per day (GWh/day) (for reference, the average U.S. household used about 30 kilowatt-hours per day in 2016, meaning 1,000 GWh/day could power over 33 million households).

This milestone marks great progress, but the above chart clearly shows there is no sign of this slowing down, with the total expected to rise another 13 per cent to exceed 1,200 GWh/day by the end of 2019. Not only that, but EIA expects wind to surpass hydropower in that time to become the largest source of renewable energy in the United States before 2019 is over.

Over 1,000 wind farm projects built in the last decade

Speaking of wind power, wind does appear to be king when it comes to fast-growing renewables in the United States in the past decade. By combing through the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (a fun and powerful data source and visualization tool showing wind turbines currently installed in the United States, which I’ll be publishing an article on shortly), we find that it has taken just the past 10 years (from 2008 to 2017) for 1,000 new wind farm projects to be installed in the United States, totalling a capacity of over 63 gigawatts (GW) from over 43,000 individual turbines. The 26 years previous to that (1981 to 2016) accounted for just 328 wind farm projects of 12,700 turbines for a total of only 21 GW, so the fact that it only took the past decade to add an additional 1,000 wind farms is an astounding measure of wind power growth.

Clearly the various market forces, investments, and policies surrounding renewable energy are paying off as the renewable energy industry cements that it is a force to be reckoned with economically, as well as environmentally.

Statoil photo.

$1,000 incentive for rooftop solar

Speaking of policies and market forces promoting renewable energy, a number of states provide incentives to customers to install solar power systems on rooftops. The idea is that not only does residential solar power provide the customer with savings to their power bill every month, but the more widespread residential solar power is the better the results are for the entire electrical grid. In fact, because the cost to move electricity through the transmission and distribution systems can be just as great as the cost of electricity generation itself, one of the easiest ways to improve the reliability and resilience of the grid, while also increasing the proportion of power coming from carbon-neutral sources, is to install residential solar power systems.

Shutterstock photo.

Because of these benefits, many states offer a range of incentives to customers who install rooftop solar. Included among the bevy of incentive structures such as financing programs, loans, and tax exemptions, three different states offer specific $1,000 tax credits for customers who install solar systems:

ChesterEnergyandPolicy.com graphic.

While these are cherry-picked specific states to match the theme of 1,000, they nonetheless demonstrate a few examples of the government-backed incentives of solar power that are helping to propel the U.S. solar industry.

1,000 oil and gas rigs in the United States

If you’re unfamiliar with Baker Hughes, they provide invaluable data in the form of a running tally of the oil and gas drilling rigs that are operational in the United States. These data serve as a great indicator of the current sentiments of the oil and gas industries, how much investment they’re putting into future drilling (since it can take several months from drilling until oil and gas are actually produced), and what you can expect the oil market to look like in the near to medium future. Especially useful for forecasting energy markets is watching the change in rig count, whether that figure is growing or falling and at what speed.

The total count of oil and gas rigs in the United States had fallen below 1,000 for three years starting in 2015, as oil prices and natural gas prices continued to drop. This drop in price led to agreement from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and certain non-member countries, not including the United States, to restrict their production of oil in an effort to reduce commercial stocks of oil and drive the prices back up. The group action has made progress towards OPEC’s goals, as the prices for oil continue to grow, but it’s gone more slowly than they had hoped as the production cut led to a gap in the market that U.S. drillers were happy to step in and fill by drilling more, particularly using shale drilling techniques. This process has been ongoing, and due to the boost of shale oil meeting demand left in the wake of the OPEC production cuts, the United States once again surpassed 1,000 combined oil and gas rigs as of April 6, 2018. The geopolitical ramifications of OPEC’s cuts, the debate about whether to extend them, and the side effect it all has on U.S. oil production is one of the most watched energy trends of 2018. Stay tuned to the rig counts to watch this indicator.

1,000 million short tons of U.S. coal production, gone for good?

Another key trend in recent energy markets, responding both to economic factors and public policy, is the declining coal production in the United States.  For many years, coal had been the cheapest source of electricity in the United States, and as such was responsible for the largest portion of the U.S. electric power sector. More recently, however, natural gas has overtaken as the largest single fuel source for electricity generation due to its quickly declining costs. Additionally, awareness and regulation surrounding the climate-changing effects of carbon dioxide (coal is the fuel source that emits the most carbon dioxide when burned) have led to the cleaner fuel types, including natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy, taking over market share from coal.

Because of the declining demand for coal, U.S. coal production has likewise fallen. The last year that coal production in the United States exceeded 1,000 million short tons was in 2014. While coal exports (accounting for over 10% of the total U.S. production) are still in demand in destinations across South America, Europe, and Asia, the economics and and climate impacts all but ensure the continued decline of coal in favor of alternative fuels. Just how quickly that production declines will continue to be an important indicator in the energy markets and will also be used as a political tool by those looking to keep or gain favor in the Coal States.

1000 Independence Avenue SW

A last instance where 1,000 is a number to watch in the energy field is a bit of a cheat, but 1000 Independence Avenue SW is the street address of the Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Under the guidance of the Trump Administration, a number of changes to DOE have been proposed, debated, and/or passed that have significant ramifications for energy policy in the United States:

Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more.

For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

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