Fossil Fuel Use in 2034? Not Much Different

Bloomberg News A mix of coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels will still supply 68 percent of the nation’s energy needs in 2034, according to one projection.

A quarter century from now the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels will have declined only marginally, according to a projection from Black & Veatch, the engineering and energy consulting firm.

In 2034, a mix of coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels will supply 68 percent of the nation’s energy needs, compared to 76 percent today. The share of energy production from renewable sources, including solar and wind, in 2034 will rise to 13 percent from 5 percent. Nuclear power will supply only 2 percent more electricity than it does in 2010, the firm said.

Those numbers were part of a presentation that Black & Veatch made to utility executives and other clients in Sacramento this week and which Mark Griffith, a managing director at the company, shared with The Times.

“We’re not assuming that greenhouse gas legislation leads to a immediate shutdown of all coal plants, nor does it lead to going directly to natural gas or renewables,” said Mr. Griffith.

However, Mr. Griffith acknowledged that a number of factors remain in flux that could change those dynamics, including the final shape of a cap-and-trade system – if one is implemented – and whether the United States imposes a requirement that all states obtain a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

“The dust of this recession has only begun to settle, but it is clear that the energy industry’s ‘new normal’ faces a series of fundamental risks,” the Black & Veatch presentation asserted.

Among them, uncertainty surrounding the growth in electricity demand, the price of natural gas and technological innovation.

Black & Veatch estimates that coal’s share of the electricity market will decline to 23 percent in 2034 from 32 percent today, mainly as a result of the retirement of aging coal-fired power plants.

“We do assume that there are a few coal-fired plants under construction that get completed in the next three years and that’s the end of the coal build out,” Mr. Griffith said. “The long-term build out is natural gas and renewables and some nuclear.”

The outlook for renewable energy is cloudy over all. Much depends on green energy targets set by the states – or possibly by the federal government – and resolving technological and infrastructure issues, including building transmission lines to carry wind and solar energy from remote locations to population centers.

Black & Veatch predicts that California, for instance, will not meet an ambitious target of obtaining 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of this year. The state is likely to achieve a 33 percent target, but not until a few years past a 2020 deadline.

In fact, the growth in wind power, which has been rising rapidly in recent years, may start to decline as states meet their renewable portfolio standards, or R.P.S., according to Black & Veatch.

“If there were a national R.P.S., there could be more aggressive build out of renewables,” said Mr. Griffith

By Todd Woody

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