Bio-diesel, solar, and wind production set records, as did electric car sales and global carbon pollution, during 2013. This year, the US oil and gas booms continued, while US coal production and exports declined. Yet, around the world, coal consumption grew faster than any other fossil fuel.
Politics rippled through the world of energy, with the start of 2013 featuring the extension of the wind production tax credit by Congress and the launching of right-wing attacks on state renewable energy requirements that had no success over the following 12 months. New York continued its shale gas moratorium, 4 towns in Colorado passed by referendums local moratoriums, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Act 13 that had sharply limited local zoning powers over gas drilling. But California and Illinois enacted statutes regulating, permitting shale gas production.
This year is part of remarkable energy times that began in 2007. So, picking the 10 most important energy facts of action-packed 2013 is no easy task but onward!
10. Electricity Demand Falls In 5 of 6 Years
Once upon a time, actually not so long ago, electricity demand increased almost every year by 1% to 2%. But starting in 2008. something strange happened. Electricity demand in the United States declined in 4 of the 5 years from 2008 to 2012. And consumption in 2013 may be lower again!
Falling electricity demand is not the result of a shrinking economy. Indeed, US GDP has risen every quarter since July 2009 and our economy is now substantially bigger in real terms than it was in 2007, when a near depression commenced. So, what's going on with electricity demand?
Distributed solar, smart grids and meters, energy efficient lighting, appliances, motors, and buildings are all cutting demand. And lower demand is depressing wholesale electricity prices. In turn, low wholesale electricity prices are pressuring inefficient coal plants and even nuclear units, leading to some surprising coal-plant and nuclear closures in 2013.
Declining electricity demand in 5 of the last 6 years is a startling and important energy fact of 2013.
9. Gas Industry Flares 30% of Gas In North Dakota
Flaring of natural gas in North Dakota is essentially out of control, burning $100 million of product a month, and emitting 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Those are big numbers, and the economic loss has caused landowners to sue to recover lost royalty payments that have literally gone up in smoke.
But what is most telling about the gas flaring in North Dakota is the attitude it demonstrates about environmentally responsible operations among those companies doing it and the regulators allowing it. That attitude reveals itself in other ways around America in things like drilling pits for wastewater and not using available pollution controls that could cut air emissions by 90% from compressor stations.
Simply, the attitude that fuels North Dakota flaring is burning not only gas but also large swaths of public opinion. It represents a view that environmental protection comes second to profit maximization. That view is not shared by most Americans and is certainly not what they want in their neighborhoods.
8. New York's Air Cleanest In 50 Years, Saving 800 Lives Per Year
Clean air regulations and energy economics are causing a massive switch from oil to natural gas in New York City. As a consequence of switching from more expensive, dirtier oil, consumers are saving money, the air is cleaner in New York City than anytime in the last 50 years, and 800 lives per year are being saved, according to a public health study. That's a wonderful and important energy fact.
Yet, the gas that is displacing dirtier oil is coming largely from local communities in Pennsylvania, where best practices and best technologies are not being used and where pollution is higher as a result.
It's past time to mandate the best pollution controls at compressor stations, to limit substantially flaring, to require green completions at gas wells, to ban pits for drilling wastewater, and to insist that best practices and technologies be routinely used to reduce pollution in local areas where gas is produced. New York City's clean air must not come at the expense of dirty air in the gas fields around America.
The combination of less energy demand as well as renewable energy and gas displacing coal and oil is cutting significantly across America soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, and other air pollutants that sicken and kill. But these national advances make it a moral imperative to protect local communities where gas drilling takes place.
For in some of these gas drilling communities, air quality is worse, not better. That injustice must not be accepted!
Tomorrow, the Countdown continues with Number 7.