Investigative journalists from Grist, the self-proclaimed “nation’s favorite independent source of green news and views,” recently tweeted some criticism about IER’s overview of the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2010 Annual Energy Outlook.
One criticism was that we focused too heavily on EIA’s estimate that fossil energy will continue to be the dominant source of U.S. energy and economic growth for decades, accounting for nearly 80 percent of our energy needs in 2035, and neglected to mention that EIA also projects a significant increase in renewables.
In his tweet, one green journalist points out that the EIA report indicates renewables will increase by 20 percent. Actually, that’s an understatement. EIA predicts wind, solar, and some biomass (read: politically correct “renewable” sources) will increase by 88 percent. That sounds impressive, but even with their dramatic increase EIA estimates that by 2035 these politically correct renewables will only produce about 8 percent of our total energy consumption. And that is despite billions of dollars in subsidies, set-asides, and preferential treatment.
In comparison, EIA estimates that our most efficient, proven, and prolific (albeit not as politically fashionable) sources of carbon-free and renewable energy – nuclear and hydroelectric power – together will provide for 10.8 percent of our energy needs in 2035 (2.6 percent from hydro and 8.2 percent from nuclear).
But how accurate are these forecasts? The EIA is taking a glimpse nearly 30 years into the future, after all.
The oldest Annual Energy Outlook on EIA’s website is from 1996. Their forecast for renewables’ slice of the energy pie in 2008 was 7.39%; the actual number last year was 7.36%. That’s very accurate, and of all the energy sources, their forecasts were the closest on renewable energy.
The question of whether their forecast will be that precise thirty years from now remains to be seen. However, we’re confident it will be more accurate than many other projections we’ve seen over the years.
Although the EIA projects a large percentage increase in renewable energy by 2035, this will account for less than 10 percent of our total energy use. The American taxpayers have contributed billions of dollars to renewables for decades and yet EIA predicts they will continue to play a minor role in our energy supply thirty years from now.
 Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2010, Table A1, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/appa.pdf