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Annual Energy Outlook 2011 Early Release Overview, Reference Case

EIA energy outlook projects growing reliance on natural gas from shale,
reduced energy import shares, and increased electricity generation from renewables and natural gas


WASHINGTON, DC - The Annual Energy Outlook 2011 (AEO2011 ) Reference case released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) presents updated projections for U.S. energy markets through 2035. These Reference case projections do not include the effects of potential future policies that have not yet become law.

"Our Reference case projection shows the growing importance of natural gas from domestic shale gas resources in meeting U.S. energy demand and lowering natural gas prices," said EIA Administrator Richard Newell. "Energy efficiency improvements and the increased use of renewables are other key factors that moderate the projected growth in energy-related greenhouse gas emissions," said Newell.

Some key findings:

A higher updated estimate of domestic shale gas resources supports increased natural gas production at prices below those in last year's Outlook: The technically recoverable unproved shale gas resource is 827 trillion cubic feet (as of January 1, 2009) in the AEO2011 Reference case, 474 trillion cubic feet larger than in the AEO2010 Reference case, reflecting additional information that has become available with more drilling activity in new and existing shale plays. This larger resource leads to about double the shale gas production and over 20 percent higher total lower-48 natural gas production in 2035, with lower natural gas prices, than was projected in the AEO2010 Reference case (Figure 1 ).

Imports meet a major but declining share of total U.S. energy demand: Projected demand for energy imports is moderated by increased use of domestically produced biofuels, demand reductions resulting from the adoption of efficiency standards, and rising energy prices. Rising fuel prices also spur domestic energy production across all fuels, which moderates growth in energy imports. The net import share of total U.S. energy consumption in 2035 is 18 percent, compared with 24 percent in 2009.

Non-hydro renewables and natural gas are the fastest growing fuels used to generate electricity, but coal remains the dominant fuel because of the large amount of existing capacity: Coal remains the dominant energy source for electricity generation (Figure 2 ) because of continued reliance on existing coal-fired plants. EIA is not projecting any new central station coal-fired power plants, however, beyond those already under construction or supported by clean coal incentives. The generation share from renewable resources increases from 11 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2035 in response to Federal tax credits in the near term and State requirements in the long term. Natural gas also plays a growing role due to lower natural gas prices and relatively low capital construction costs that make it more attractive than coal. The share of generation from natural gas increases from 23 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2035.

Industrial natural gas demand recovers, reversing recent trend: Industrial natural gas demand grows sharply in the near term from 7.3 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to 9.4 trillion cubic feet in 2020. This growth reverses the recent downward trend, as a result of a strong recovery in near-term industrial production, growth in combined heat and power, and relatively low natural gas prices.

Assuming no changes in policy related to greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide emissions grow slowly, but do not again reach 2005 levels until 2027: After falling 3 percent in 2008 and nearly 7 percent in 2009, largely driven by the economic downturn, energy-related CO2 emissions do not return to 2005 levels (5,980 million metric tons) until 2027. CO2 emissions then rise by an additional 5 percent from 2027 to 2035, reaching 6,315 million metric tons in 2035 (Figure 3 ).

Other highlights of the AEO2011 Reference case projections:

  • World oil prices rise in the Reference case (Figure 4 ), as the world economy recovers and pressure from growth in global demand continues. In 2035, the average real price of crude oil in the Reference case is $125 per barrel in 2009 dollars. World liquids consumption grows from 83.7 million barrels per day in 2009 to 110.8 million barrels per day in 2035. Most of the growth is in non-OECD countries or regions, lead by China, India, and the Middle East.
  • In the AEO2011 Reference case, U.S. natural gas consumption rises 16 percent from 22.7 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to 26.5 trillion cubic feet in 2035. The total in 2035 is about 1.6 trillion cubic feet higher than in the AEO2010 Reference case (24.9 trillion cubic feet).
  • U.S. crude oil production increases from 5.4 million barrels per day in 2009 to 6.1 million barrels per day in 2019 and declines slightly from that level through 2035. Production increases come from onshore enhanced oil recovery projects and shale oil plays.
The Reference case projections from theEarly Release Overview of the AEO2011 are available at www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo. The full AEO2011 report, including projections with differing assumptions on the price of oil, the rate of economic growth, and the characteristics of new technologies, will be released in Spring 2011, along with regional projections.

The product described in this press release was prepared by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. By law, EIA's data, analysis, and forecasts are independent of approval by any other officer or employee of the United States Government. The views in the product and press release therefore should not be construed as representing those of the Department of Energy or other Federal agencies.

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