Friday, December 28, 2012

Counting Down 2012's Top 12 Energy Facts: 6, 5, 4

The 2012 Countdown continues at number 6 and with heat:

6. This year was a scorcher.  In fact, 2012 will be the hottest ever for the contiguous United States, breaking the record set in 1998, and doing so by about 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's smashing the record, like hitting 90 home runs in a season.

The heat impacted energy markets, especially the natural gas market, by destroying substantial heating demand. About 51% of US homes heat with natural gas and the record warmth cut gas throughput significantly in the space heating market.

Scientists also increasingly state that the climate has changed already--temperatures and seas are up and rising--and so weather events are changing too.  Events predicted by climate models like super droughts and storms dotted 2012, bringing human misery and more than a hundred billion dollars of economic damage.

The record heat and storms of 2012 also shifted moderately public opinion about global warming and the need to address it smartly.  The shift was biggest among the 33% of the public that is generally skeptical about science.   The combination of this shifting public opinion and President Obama's re-election means that the climate change issue is rising once more.

5. Once the leading climate skeptic and a highly credentialed physicist, Professor Richard Muller and the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project conducted a massive study of the world's temperatures records.  The results surprised Muller and converted him.  Muller concluded that the world warmed 2.5 degrees Celsius over the last 250 years and that "essentially all" of the added heat was due to human activity.  The work of Muller and his team enjoyed diverse funding, including from the Koch brothers, who have provided massive funding for climate denial activity.

The BEST study and Professor Muller's acceptance of climate science's basic findings about humans causing rising temperatures destroyed the last vestige of non-crank support for climate denial.  And so it is the 5th most important energy fact of 2012.

The BEST study plays a similar role to the MIT methane study.  Each study crushes false science claims made by ideologues of either the left or right.  The battle between ideologues and science will continue in 2013 but hope springs eternal that reason will prevail.

4.  Competition between coal and gas for electricity generation market share reached the most intense level ever in 2012.  As a result of increasing use of gas to make electricity, the market share of coal has declined from 48% in 2008 to 43% in 2011 and likely 37% in 2012.  Natural gas will capture approximately 30% of electric generation market share this year, sharply up from 12% in 1990 and 16% in 2000.

What about renewable energy's electricity generation market share in 2012? It actually declined a bit, as a result of a large drop in large hydro production from 2011.

Next year will likely see an increase from 2012 levels of both renewable energy's and coal's market share.  The huge 2012 wind build (12,000 megawatts) will operate for a full year in 2013, and wind alone will near 5% of America's electricity production.  In 2013, Coal will benefit from higher natural gas prices and so may approach the 40% market share level.  In turn, natural gas next year will see a lower market share--possibly 27%.

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