EIA short-term winter outlook forecasts renewables

By Katie Fletcher | October 08, 2015

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has released the winter edition of its Short-Term Energy Outlook, predicting total renewables used in the electric power sector to decrease by 2.7 percent in 2015. Conventional hydropower generation is forecast to decrease by 9.7 percent and non-hydropower renewable power generation is forecast to increase by 4 percent. The decrease in hydropower reflects the effects of the California drought. In 2016, forecast generation from hydropower in the electric power sector increases by 7.3 percent.

The report included a U.S. renewables and CO2 emissions summary, with waste biomass consumption at 0.49 quadrillion Btu reported for 2015 projected to increase to 0.5 quadrillion Btu in 2016. Woody biomass consumption was 2.04 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and is forecast at 1.99 quadrillion Btu in 2016. The electricity subtotal from geothermal, hydropower, solar, waste biomass, wind and wood biomass amounted to 7.26 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and is forecast to increase to 7.77 quadrillion Btu in 2016.

According to the winter STEO, the use of cord wood and wood pellets as the primary residential space heating fuel has increased by 33 percent since 2005 to about 2.6 million households, or 2 percent, in 2014. About 8 percent of households use wood as a secondary source of heat, making wood second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel.

Unlike the other home heating fuels, there are no readily available sources for estimating wood consumption or prices at the regional or national level. EIA will collect additional wood consumption data in the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey.

Specifically in New England, an estimated 1.1 million homes, or about 20 percent, used wood for space heating, water heating or cooking in 2009, found in EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey 2009, which is nearly twice the national rate. About half of all rural New England households used wood, compared with 12 percent of the region’s urban households.

The winter fuels outlook also provided insight on liquid biofuels. EPA’s proposed renewable fuel standard (RFS) volumes for 2014 through 2016 were released in May. Although these volumes could be modified before the final rule is issued, the EIA used the numbers when developing the current STEO forecast.

Ethanol production, which averaged 934,000 barrels per day in 2014, is forecast to average more than 950,000 barrels per day in both 2015 and 2016. Ethanol consumption averaged 877,000 barrels per day in 2014, and is forecast to average slightly more than 900,000 barrels per day in 2015 and 2016, resulting in an average 9.9 percent ethanol share of the total gasoline pool. According to the EIA, significant increases in E15 or E85 consumptions are not expected over the forecast period. The report indicates that the proposed RFS targets could encourage imports of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which were 3,000 barrels per day in 2014.

Biodiesel consumption is where the EIA expects the largest effect of the proposed RFS targets, which contributes to meeting the biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel RFS targets. Last year, biodiesel production averaged an estimated 83,000 barrels per day and is forecast to average 92,000 barrels per day in 2015 and 98,000 barrels per day in 2016. An increase in net imports of biomass-based diesel is also expected from 15,000 barrels per day in 2014 to 25,000 barrels per day in 2015 and to 35,000 barrels per day the following year.

The full winter fuels STEO can be downloaded here.