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Exploring Long-Term Energy Trends in the United States

The 2021 Energy Information Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook report offers a snapshot into current and long-term trends in American energy behaviors. The ongoing pandemic has undoubtedly skewed recent data, with many consumers experiencing increased electricity rates due to the pervasive work-from-home culture. Looking beyond the pandemic, what can energy companies and individuals expect in the next few years — and even decades? Some of the most notable predictions suggest a major shift in types of fuel used to generate electricity as well as a significant generational change in consumer choices toward more energy-efficient options.

Fossil Fuels Take a Back Seat but are Still Along for the Ride

Energy experts are already witnessing a decline in fossil fuels, specifically coal, within the U.S. electricity landscape. In many states, especially in Texas, natural gas and coal, while still the dominant players in the state’s electricity market, are experiencing significant competition from renewables. A decade ago, 37% of the power that Texas electricity providers distributed was coal-generated. Today, at least three of the coal-fired facilities have closed. In general, the U.S. will likely experience increased production in natural gas, largely for industrial purposes and international export. However, natural gas use in the U.S. residential sector won’t experience much growth at all; improvements in energy efficiency will diminish the demand for natural gas heating and electric use.

Climate Change Burdens the Energy Grid

Devastating weather events are on the rise, unfortunately. Wildfires out West, winter storms down South, and massive hurricanes along the coasts are par for the course each year. Should these trends continue, scientists predict an increased burden on the energy grid. Heating and cooling needs in response to severe temperature changes will challenge both power’s reliability and energy rates. One can hope that as coal’s prevalence ebbs and renewables grow, severe weather events will stabilize. Nonetheless, electricity providers are encouraged to invest now in preventative measures to better protect the grid in response to climate change.

future electricity grid

Renewable Energy on the Rise

Renewable energy, especially wind and solar, presents a key player in the U.S. energy market’s future landscape. The EIA predicts that the electric grid’s reliance on renewable energy will double over the next few decades. Texas consumers are already benefitting from a massive initiative in wind power; the Lone Star State has invested billions to better integrate Texas electric companies and the wind industry. The U.S. Department of Energy describes wind power as a low-cost option for electricity generation. Texas electricity rates and rates around the country will likely decrease if more renewables are integrated within the grid. Expect more and more electric companies to offer renewable options for consumers seeking to decrease their carbon footprint. Currently, if one were to compare electricity rates, selecting renewable offerings doesn’t guarantee cheap electricity, but as technology improves, renewable energy rates will become much more affordable.

Consumer Behaviors Lean Towards Energy Efficiency

Long-term data suggests that individuals are opting for more energy-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles. Starting in 2030, the EIA predicts a sharp increase in electric-battery-powered vehicles, though gasoline will remain the largest contributor for passenger vehicle fuel. Within the home, more and more Americans are selecting smarter technologies that save money long-term on utility bills, like thermostats and kitchen appliances. Millennials and Generation Z, in particular, are overwhelmingly concerned with climate change, leading to more environmentally-conscious consumer decisions as these populations age and their decisions affect the economy.

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