10 ways America's energy & climate world changed in 10 years

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10 ways America's energy & climate world changed in 10 years

December 27, 2017

We've gone from an energy-scarce to an energy-abundant nation, and our climate debate has waxed and waned. Let's drill down on a decade's worth of changes.

1. The oil boom

America's oil production has nearly doubled over the last decade, and we became the world's biggest oil producer a few years ago, thanks to drilling technologies like fracking and horizontal drilling. This dynamic has complicated policies predicated on limited oil supplies, including a federal ethanol mandate and fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

On the geopolitical front, the U.S. is now becoming a swing producer alongside OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

2. The natural gas boom

America is now also the world's biggest natural-gas producer, with an increase of more than 30% in production since 2008. Former President Barack Obama's aggressive environmental agenda was made politically easier because plentiful supplies of cleaner burning gas enabled an affordable shift away from coal in the electric sector.

With exports of liquefied natural gas, the U.S. is also leading the way in stitching together a global natural gas market similar to the world's liquid oil market. Environmental concerns, including about fracking, an extraction technology that enables companies to reach new sources of oil and gas, have risen alongside economic gains of the oil and gas boom.

3. The wind and solar boom

Fueled by federal subsidies and state mandates, wind and solar energy has skyrocketed, creating jobs across the country and lobbying prowess in Washington and state capitals. Wind production has increased more than than 200%, while solar's rise has been even more exponential, growing from almost nothing in 2008.

The two combined made up 10% of U.S. electricity earlier this year, a first. America is now among the world's biggest producers of wind and solar, too (though China beats us on both fronts).

4. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fall

Thanks partly to the one-two punch of natural gas and renewables pushing out coal, America's greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to levels not seen since 1994. The drop is also due to the 2008 economic recession and relatively flat economic growth since then.

Don't expect emissions to keep falling without another big change: unforeseen market dynamics like we've seen with natural gas or big federal policies requiring cuts.

5. Nuclear power and coal failures

The one-two punch of cheap natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewables is also accelerating a slow-moving downfall of America's nuclear and coal industries. More than a dozen nuclear reactors have either shut down or are set to shut down in the coming years.

Coal is facing its own reckoning with aggressive environmental regulations, technology advancements and greater concern of climate change.

6. Electricity market mayhem

The above five drivers are causing big changes in how America's power market operates. Talk about the unforgiving limelight: Electric regulators and utility companies, which only get attention when the lights don't come on, are working overtime to ensure a seamless transition from a less diverse, coal-dependent electricity grid to a more diverse one dependent upon natural gas and intermittent resources of wind and solar.


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