Quantcast
Popular
iStock

The Hazards of EIA Energy Forecasts

Accepting the conclusions of the latest energy outlook, released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) means also accepting certain climate catastrophe.

As we have noted before, the EIA has made a routine out of releasing unrealistic, distorted and dangerous outlooks on the future of global energy demand. These projections should come with a warning label.


Assuming this scenario will become reality also means accepting the consequences: total failure to stop dangerous climate change. It's important to read the fine print.

The EIA's reference case suggests that fossil fuels will still account for 77 percent of energy use in 2040 alongside rising energy demand. Climate science however, shows that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut in half well before 2040 in order to have a good chance of avoiding the worst expected climate impacts (and eventually cut to zero mid-century). You can't accept one without the other.

No one can credibly claim to predict the future. However, energy modelers can test specific assumptions to gain insight into what's possible. So what assumptions were used to create the EIA's latest base-case scenario? Here's a sample:

  • Current laws and regulations, including those related to climate change, will not change from today beyond 2040.
  • Contrary to clear trends already underway, electric vehicles fail to meaningfully replace internal combustion engines (only 3 percent of global transportation projected to be electrically powered by 2040).
  • In spite of low and rapidly falling costs, renewable energy fails to meaningfully displace coal and natural gas-fired electricity.

What is the intended value of creating energy outlooks using dangerous assumptions like these? It's no wonder that the EIA reached this absurd conclusion:

'Through 2040, the IEO2017 projects increased world consumption of marketed energy from all fuel sources, except for coal demand, which is projected to remain essentially flat.'

It can be useful of course to contrast existing policy with the future we are trying to achieve to reveal the size of the gap, but that doesn't seem to be the EIA's goal here. If it was, such a comparison would feature prominently. Instead, the EIA appears to cherry-pick assumptions that would protect the fossil fuel industry from difficult questions about its viability in a low-carbon world, while failing to include a scenario which considers what reaching climate success would look like.

Of course, the EIA isn't alone in creating questionable energy outlooks seemingly designed to protect the fossil fuel industry from the difficult realities of the required energy transition. The world's largest oil companies have long been putting out self-serving outlooks to distort our view of the future to their interest. Even the highly influential International Energy Agency has repeatedly failed to put a model that centers climate safety at the heart of its World Energy Outlook.

It's no secret that our perception of the future shapes our decision-making today. The fossil fuel industry needs investors and government to believe it will continue to grow. Flawed energy scenarios make that fiction possible. This works for the fossil fuel companies, but what about the rest of us?

For anyone who actually want to use energy forecasts as a tool to inform sound decision-making, for directing investment wisely, and for meeting the obvious goal of achieving climate safety—we need outlooks with credible assumptions. It's a shame we can't trust the EIA to provide them.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Hikers on the Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffin Park, Calif. while a brush fire burned in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There's something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Employees of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance working together with students and faculty of Leech Lake Tribal Collage to construct solar panels, 2017. Ryan James White

A Tribe in Northern Minnesota Shows the Country How to Do Community Solar

By Susan Cosier

Last summer on a reservation in northern Minnesota, students from Leech Lake Tribal College earned their solar installation licenses while they dug, drilled and connected five photovoltaic arrays. The panels shine blue on the plain, reflecting the sky as they generate roughly 235 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to help 100 families pay their energy bills. This is community solar in action.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Arches National Park. Chris Dodds / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump Auctions Off 150,00 Acres of Public Lands for Fracking Near Utah National Parks

On Tuesday the Trump administration offered more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fossil-fuel extraction near some of Utah's most iconic landscapes, including Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Vanderford glacier in East Antarctica is one of four that is beginning to melt, according to NASA. Angela Wylie / Fairfax Media / Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Melting Discovered in East Antarctic Region Holding Ice 'Equivalent to Four Greenlands'

Ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica have been melting at alarming rates in recent years, but at least the glaciers of East Antarctica were believed to be relatively stable. Until now. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists have discovered that glaciers covering one-eighth of Antarctica's eastern coast have lost ice in the past 10 years. If the region keeps melting, it has enough ice in its drainage basins to add 28 meters (approximately 92 feet) to global sea level rise, BBC News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
In 2018, the Arctic region had the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record. NOAAPMEL / YouTube

The Past 5 Years Were the Arctic's Warmest on Record

The Arctic is still warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth, and the region's air temperatures in the past five years between 2014-2018 have exceeded all previous records since 1900, according to a peer-reviewed report released by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday.

The agency's 13th annual Arctic Report Card also concluded that 2018 was second only to 2016 in terms of the region's overall warmth.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Partial solar eclipse. ndersbknudsen, CC BY 2.0

3 Key Dangers of Solar Geoengineering and Why Some Critics Urge a Global Ban

By Justin Mikulka

A Harvard research team recently announced plans to perform early tests to shoot sunlight-reflecting particles into the high atmosphere to slow or reverse global warming.

These research efforts, which could take shape as soon as the first half of 2019, fall under the banner of a geoengineering technology known as solar radiation management, which is sometimes called "sun dimming."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Even an increase of 2°C would cause significant sea level rise. pxhere

Report: Current Climate Policies Will Warm the World by 3.3˚C

This past October, a widely disseminated United Nations report warned that far-reaching and significant climate impacts will already occur at 1.5˚C of warming by 2100.

But in a study released Tuesday, researchers determined that the current climate polices of governments around the world will push Earth towards 3.3˚C of warming. That's more than two times the aspirational 1.5˚C target adopted by nearly 200 nations under the 2015 Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
garett_mosher / iStock / Getty Images

McDonald's to Reduce Antibiotics Use in Beef

In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald's—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced Tuesday that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!