Today was supposed to be the official launch of the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook (AEO). Just a few hours ago the EIA’s site stated that it would be released today, but apparently among the things that EIA can’t predict is the launch date for it’s big annual report. When it is published, now supposedly at the “end of July”, this report should contain the kind of hard data that energy regulators and investors desperately need to gain an accurate picture of energy in the United States today, and for the next 50 years. Except it won’t.
The most important data won’t be there and the analysis will be consistently myopic and in complete denial of what is required by climate science. Because of that, for the purposes of any responsible policymaker who is concerned about climate, EIA’s AEO is Dead on Arrival (DOA).
We and others have devoted a lot of space to substantively documenting all that is wrong with the EIA’s data, and in particular their heavily skewed “Reference Case”, which unfortunately informs and underlies virtually all government decisions on energy planning.
The issue, in a nutshell, is that the EIA’s Reference Case scenario – which despite EIA’s weak protestations to the contrary is used by industry, government regulators and investors to predict the future of energy – consistently underestimates renewables growth, underestimates fossil fuel decline, and stubbornly foresees a 2040 where the world still remains roughly ¾ dependent on fossil fuels for our energy needs.
If the Reference Case proves true, the world is in fact a nightmarish one where climate change is being supercharged and we are on track to miss the Paris climate targets by a very wide margin. Energy planning and modeling should assume success in meeting our climate goals, not failure.
EIA did pre-release an Extended Policies case, which is supposed to be more climate friendly, and results in a whopping 2.3% additional CO2 reduction more than the Reference Case between now and 2040. So that leaves roughly 80.7% of emissions reductions to go, just to meet the U.S. target set for Copenhagen. Not exactly keeping hope alive there.
Happily, EIA is famously, almost reliably, wrong about most everything.
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) July 14, 2014
And so, with all this in mind, I decided to attend the Annual EIA Energy Conference last week. Despite years of being concerned about the EIA, I had never actually been to one of these gatherings before.
I got there early but bypassed networking over pastries and coffee in order to get a seat up front in the cavernous meeting hall that held thousands. I found a seat at a table with a jovial gentleman from Shell. As sometimes happens at these things, he must have assumed that Oil Change International is an industry group, and he proceeded to stage whisper to me that “Let’s face it, it’s fun to drill, and it’s fun to blow things up.”
I confess I smiled because of course, there’s some truth there. I have two sons and it would be hard for me to argue that I don’t get it. But then it occurred to me that I was at our country’s premier gathering of people concerned with energy policy, and not a preschool parent gathering, and I stopped smiling.
It was at this moment that EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski entered the room, and then stood just a few feet in front of me. I saw my opportunity to do the first thing I had come there to do: deliver a letter to the Administrator from a large coalition of groups including the Sierra Club and 350.org. The letter respectfully requested that “the Energy Information Administration produce a safe climate scenario or scenarios that are consistent with our nation’s climate goals.” Administrator Sieminski took it from me and said he was looking forward to reading it. We’ve yet to receive a response to the letter.
The rest of the day was illuminating, to say the least. The opening plenary featured John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. He started strong by talking about the scale of the climate threat, but quickly began babbling about carbon capture and storage (CCS), safe nukes, and other mythical creatures. Pretty sure I heard him talking about magical carbon sucking unicorns but who knows.
Director Holdren said he thought that the United States could do “somewhat better” than the Reference Case scenario, but clearly backed the idea that the “vast majority” of our energy will still be coming from fossils by 2040. Which is basically saying “no we can’t” make the Paris targets. He also stated for the record that he believed it was “unrealistic” to keep “all” fossil fuels in the ground – which some of us feel differently about (although I would concede the point with “all” emphasized).
Director Holdren was followed by the first of several industry speakers who actively denied climate science and spoke about nonsense such as Obama’s “all out war” on fossil fuels.
It frankly struck me as disgraceful, sad and revealing that conference planners and Administrator Sieminski felt they had to give prominent roles to climate denial and industry paranoia. Although there were several panels that mentioned or even centered on climate concerns, it was clear that climate policy still hasn’t been deeply integrated at the EIA.
— Steve Kretzmann (@Kretzmann) July 11, 2016
— Steve Kretzmann (@Kretzmann) July 11, 2016
There were some important and hopeful moments. The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA-E) reported that their latest data showed that if every car in the U.S. became electric overnight, we would only increase electricity demand by 20-30%, plus if the car charging happened overnight, it would require absolutely no new electric supply.
Think about that. Petroleum related transport emissions account for roughly a quarter of all current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We could, if we chose to, eliminate that essentially right now. Couple it with an aggressive plan to deploy solar and wind, and retire coal and gas, and the gains could be even greater, even faster.
Yes we can beat climate change and yes we can transition our economy to a climate safe path. We know how to do it. It really doesn’t need much more research or study (not that more of those things isn’t always good) – it needs action, starting now.
Most of all, we need the political will, the vision, the courage and the conviction to lead our country and our world away from climate disaster, and towards a safe, clean and prosperous future for us all.
We’ll keep making the point.