Near-term, U.S. energy systems are projected to deliver sufficient energy to meet national demands in the near term, as energy consumption fell slightly, from 98 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2014 to 97.7 quadrillion Btu in 2015, and is estimated to grow at a modest rate, averaging 0.4% per year from 2015 through 2040. In general, the capacity and condition of energy systems depend on ownership and geographic region, with privately-owned sources in the best position to invest. Reduced electric demand, changing delivery costs, and new regulations, including those focused on reducing environmental impact, have prompted transformations across the sector in recent years, with growth in natural gas, solar, and wind generation. In 2015, 40% of additional power generation came from natural gas and renewable systems, a trend that continues. However, little consideration has been given to long-term energy sustainability. Fossil fuels and uranium have limited reserves, leaving them unable to meet future power generation and delivery needs. Electricity and oil and gas delivery via well-maintained wires and pipelines remain the most efficient and safe supply chains; new distributed technologies may play an increasingly important long-term role particularly as cities grow in population.
Electricity delivery in the U.S. depends on an aging and complex patchwork system of power generation facilities, transmission and distribution (T&D) grids, local distribution lines, and substations, owned by an array of investor- and publicly-owned utilities, independent power producers, and governmental agencies. While investor-owned utilities make up only 6% of the number of electricity providers, they serve 68% of electric customers.
Some parts of the U.S. electric grid predate the turn of the 20th century. Most T&D lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and were not originally engineered to meet today’s demand, nor severe weather events. With more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines across the three interconnected electric transmission grids – the Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and Texas Interconnection – the lower 48 states’ power grid is at full capacity, with many lines operating well beyond their design. The resulting congestion raises concerns with distribution, reliability, and cost of service, producing constraints for delivering power from remote generation sites, specifically from renewable sources, to consumers. Often a single line cannot be taken out of service to perform maintenance as it will overload other interconnected lines in operation. Grids operating in Alaska and Hawaii are similarly congested and physically islanded from the other states. As a result of aging infrastructure, severe weather events, and attacks and vandalism, in 2015 Americans experienced a reported 3,571 total outages, with an average duration of 49 minutes.
Oil & Gas
America’s 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines connect sources such as wells and import/export terminals with processing facilities and consumers. Over two-thirds of the lower 48 states depend on interstate pipelines for delivery of natural gas. Most lines are owned by private utilities or municipalities.
Consumption of natural gas has increased by over 24% between 2005 and 2015 and continues to rise. Since 2013, oil and natural gas pipeline construction has continued at a fairly brisk pace to address new sources, with 2016 to 2019 construction expected to modestly increase over the previous five-year period. Despite recent construction, a large percentage of higher-pressure natural gas transmission lines were installed before 1980. On average, oil refineries have operated around or over 90% capacity since 1985, with limited new additions; existing facility upgrades have kept up with demand for gasoline, other fuels, and raw products for manufacturing. Periodic failures in existing oil and gas pipelines and quality concerns in new construction point to the need for increased monitoring and maintenance spending. The concentration of processing plants on the shores of southern states creates significant exposure to future storm and climate change impacts.Back to Energy