Summary

This briefing was hosted in coordination with the House and Senate Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucuses.

 

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute held a briefing on the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.

Ethan Zindler, Head of Americas, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, gave an overview presentation of the 2018 Factbook findings.

A moderated panel of industry experts discussed the findings and policy implications for the energy efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy sectors.

 

Highlights

Ethan Zindler, Head of Americas, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

  • The 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook focuses on renewables, efficiency, and natural gas, and contains data through the end of 2017, wherever possible. The Factbook is the sixth edition (it was first published in 2013).
  • The Factbook has four main conclusions:
    • Economic growth no longer relies on expanding energy consumption.
      • In the past 10 years, GDP has increased by 15 percent, but energy consumption has decreased by two percent.
      • Energy use has shrunk in the power sector but risen in transportation. In the past 10 years, energy use in the power sector has decreased by seven percent but gone up by about two percent in the transportation sector.
    • Sustainable energy has become an established part of U.S. power.
      • There’s nothing really alternative about renewable energy—it is very much in the mainstream.
      • In 2017, 18 percent of U.S. electricity generation was from renewable energy, doubling estimates from a decade ago. Electricity generation from coal has decreased 18 percent in the past 10 years, and now makes up 30 percent of U.S. power generation.   
      • Renewable energy build also neared a record in 2017, amidst policy uncertainty.
    • The power sector transformation is not ratcheting up consumer costs.
      • Electricity is a smaller share of household bills than ever before.
        • Electricity makes up 1.3 percent of total consumption expenditures.
        • Total energy expenditures make up about four percent of total consumption expenditures.
      • The cost of renewable energy has been coming down rapidly and is becoming competitive even without the benefit of subsidies.
      • Cheaper batteries are driving the falling cost of electric vehicles (EV).
        • In the past five years, lithium-ion battery pack prices have decreased 65 percent.
        • Batteries can also play a role in the power sector. Batteries can be put on the grid and “behind-the-meter” (to store electricity generated by a residential solar installation, for instance).
        • EV sales soared 23 percent in 2017, though they only represent a little over 1 percent of new car sales.
      • In 2017, for the first time, the United States was a net natural gas exporter every month.
    • Although federal policy support for clean energy has faltered, some states are taking the lead. The gap between federal actions and state-level actions, such as California and New York's, has been widening.
      • Power sector emissions have plunged, decreasing total U.S. emissions.
        • As a result, the United States has made progress towards both the Clean Power Plan target (that power sector emissions fall 32 percent below 2005 level) and the Paris Agreement target (that economy-wide and energy sector emissions fall 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025).
        • Power sector emissions have fallen 28 percent below 2005 levels. It’s very likely to reach the 32-percent target in 2019 and 2020.
        • We are about half way to the Paris Agreement target. We won’t get to the 26-percent goal unless something is done about transportation sector emissions.
      • Sub-national leaders and corporations say “We Are Still In” despite the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Liz Tate, Global Corporate Sustainability, Johnson Controls

  • Energy efficiency is a suite of technologies and behaviors that enable the use of all clean energy.
  • The United States has broken out of the mold of the traditional economic theory that we need more energy to increase GDP.
  • Estimated U.S. investment in energy efficiency through formal frameworks jumped from 2004 to 2007 because of a major energy bill that was passed during that time; it resulted in big improvements in appliances and in building efficiency.
  • It showed that an effective energy efficiency policy can drive investments to lower costs, improve the economy, and create three million jobs.

Aaron Severn, Senior Director, Federal Legislative Affairs, American Wind Energy Association

  • The biggest story about wind energy in the past 10 years is decreasing costs; they have dropped two-thirds in some places over the last decade.
  • The average off-take price for contracts signed in 2017 was $15 per megawatt hour compared to $47 per megawatt hour in 2011!
  • Cumulatively, the United States has installed about 91 gigawatts of wind energy, which now accounts for about 6.3 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. We are on track to reach 10 percent by 2020.
  • What has allowed such price reductions and strong growth?
    • Taller wind towers and longer blades allow more wind resources to be captured.
    • The supply chain's build-out and the development of transmission helps lower costs.
    • Renewable portfolio standards in 29 states are an important driver, helping to create market share for economies of scale to kick in.

Emily O’Connell, Senior Policy Manager, American Gas Association

  • Natural gas is about more than electricity generation. About a fifth of the energy we use in the United States is going to natural gas appliances.
  • The customer base for residential gas expanded by 21 percent over the past 20 years because of a huge improvement in the efficiency of natural gas uses.

Allison Hull, Director of Federal Government Affairs, Sempra Energy

  • Natural gas exports increased last year because the Sabine Pass LNG terminal went into service in February 2016.
  • Exports are going to increase in the coming years as there are many projects in the queue, including five projects having received approval from the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Paula Soos, Vice President, Government Relations, Covanta Energy

  • Wind and solar had 18-percent growth versus 0.4-percent growth for other renewable energy sources in 2017. We do not have an equal application of policy and even in the limited instances we do, it doesn’t take into consideration that one size does not fit all when it comes to renewables.
  • The baseload technology production tax credit, for instance (which would benefit biomass, geothermal, and hydropower) was not extended in the newly passed tax bill—creating a lack of parity.
  • Public policy counts and is important for waste energy technology.