One story dominated the news here in Washington this week, but we’re not here to talk about it. Beyond Paris and Washington, hidden in the rest of this week’s news an interesting trend emerges: Advanced energy is exceeding expectations, consistently and across the board. From smashed predictions from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) to wildly conservative estimates about efficiency, advanced energy is on the rise, and it’s faster than anyone expected.
Greentech Media reported this week that predictions about global energy efficiency since the 1980s have been wildly conservative. In fact, that’s the title of the article. The article cites Skip Laitner, an energy efficiency expert, who reviewed estimates for growth of global primary energy consumption as compared to actual consumption. The conclusion? “Energy models mostly get it wrong. Both historically and today,” Laitner writes.
Estimates for future consumption have been much higher than the reality borne out. Thanks to technological innovation and consumer adoption, energy efficiency is a larger productivity resource than anyone ever predicted. Here’s a graph that illustrates Laitner’s conclusion:
Meanwhile, ArsTechnica reported on EIA’s 2012 predictions, and how they held up five years on. Surprising nobody in our office, advanced energy is continuing its growth trend, with wind, solar, and geothermal energy making up more than 10% of the total U.S. energy mix in Q1 2017, and adding conventional hydroelectric generation nearly doubles that, to more than 19%. Overall, that’s nearly as big as large-scale nuclear generation, which accounts for 21% of the total U.S. energy mix. Based on the prediction from 2012, however, we shouldn’t be seeing numbers like that until 2057. We’re 40 years ahead of schedule!
This isn’t the first time we’ve pointed out EIA’s tendency to underestimate advanced energy trends. In June 2015, we released a paper, Competitiveness of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in U.S. Markets, which stated: “[EIA’s] forecasts are consistently off by a wide margin, always underestimating – and never overestimating – future deployment of renewables. Such persistent inaccuracy is indicative of a more fundamental problem in understanding the dynamics of growth for these technologies, as well as constraints on how the EIA is required to conduct its modeling.”
It’s not just EIA, though. As Axios reports, Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, a utility serving several western states, also didn’t think the industry would be at this point five years ago. Responding to a question from Chris Brown, president of Vestas America, at AWEA’s annual conference, he said, “I don’t think five or 10 years ago I'd be comfortable telling you we could not sacrifice reliability when we're going to have 35% of our energy come from wind.” Today, he said, “I’m very comfortable with that.”
Among utilities, Xcel has long been on the forefront of incorporating advanced energy resources. Back in 2013 we reported that Xcel Energy had decided to purchase wind and solar energy, principally because they were cheaper than other available resources. At the time, Xcel Energy’s filing with the Colorado Public Utility Commission listed 170 MW of solar and 450 MW of wind as the lowest-priced energy sources available. Last year we reported that by developing a more targeted wind forecasting system and IT-enabled automatic load and generation management (at a cost of $3.8 million), Xcel saved customers an estimated $60 million.
As consumers use better and more efficient technologies, make more informed decisions about their consumption, and choose the cheapest sources of generation, expect these trends to continue… and faster than EIA may predict.
We're getting there faster than ever, but what's the Pathway to 2050 for California? Join us at our annual event in Sacramento on June 21! See the agenda and register for the event here: