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Energy Key Findings – January/February 2012

American Energy Trends
The End of America’s Coal Era in Sight
Unprecedented Rise in Solar Energy Installations

American Energy Trends

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is expected to rely on net imports of liquid fuel for only 36% of its needs by 2035, down from 60% in 2005.

The reasons include higher relative prices for oil which stimulates domestic production, encourages conservation and makes alternative energy more viable. Other factors include more stringent fuel economy standards for vehicles and energy-efficiency requirements for appliances.

A major positive development from this change will be reduced CO2 emissions. The EIA estimates that America’s energy-related emissions will be lower in 2035 than they were in 2005.

Another energy trend is a reduced reliance on coal by the electric industry. Competition from natural gas and renewables plus stricter environmental requirements mean that more coal-fired plants will be retired than new ones added over time.

Less reliance on oil means the economy will be less sensitive to changes in oil prices. This is because the U.S. will use less oil and gas per unit of GDP, and more of it will be produced domestically. An increase in price (paid by domestic consumers) will mean more income goes to domestic producers instead of foreign ones.


The End of America’s Coal Era in Sight

In the year 2000, the U.S. produced 52% of its electricity from coal. By 2010 that number fell to 45%. Exports of American mined coal make up less than 10% of production and aren’t expected to increase significantly.

Currently, about 53% of America’s coal-fired capacity comes from units that were built with or have been retrofitted with scrubbers. Most of America’s coal-fired capacity comes from plants that are at least 30 years old, and about 14% of these will need to be retired within in the next five to eight years.

While coal’s share of the electricity-generation market declined between 2000 and 2010, the use of natural gas and renewables grew: natural gas from 16% to 24%, and renewables from 9% to 10%.

The Energy Information Administration expects the U.S. to still obtain 39% of its energy from coal by 2035 – assuming consistent government regulations. However other sources project coal’s share to drop to 20% by 2030.


Unprecedented Rise in Solar Energy Installations

Interest in solar energy production continues to grow as payback periods become shorter and fossil fuel costs continue rising. During the first three quarters of 2011, more than 1 gigawatt of photovoltaic solar energy capacity was installed across the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. This was much higher than the total 887 megawatts installed in all of 2010 – which represented a doubling of the total installed base at the time.

Solar energy installations at commercial properties fueled much of the market growth in 2011, as well as the extraordinary rise in utility-based installations, which jumped by 325% between the second and third quarter.

Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Report Q3 2011


  • The global market for waste-to-energy technologies was valued at $19.9 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2008 and is expected to increase to $26.2 billion by 2014. While the biological WTE segment is forecasted to grow faster from $1.4 billion in 2008 to approximately $2.5 billion in 2014, the thermal WTE segment will still make up the majority of the entire industry’s worth. This segment is expected to rise to $23.7 billion in 2014, up from a value of $18.5 billion in 2008.
  • One in 10 cars on the road have their “check engine” lights on.

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