The Coming Evolution Electric Power In The US

Even readers who are only experiencing the Texas electricity disruptions from afar may wish to consider a new report from an expert panel at the National Academy of Sciences, The Future of Electric Power in the United States (2021, prepublication copy downloadable for free).  Here's a summary of a few of the main economic and technological changes facing the US electricity industry. 

1) A Potentially Large Increase in Demand for Electricity 

In the last couple of decades, per capita, demand for electricity has been fairly flat in the US, while per capita demand for energy has actually declined. This is in part because of greater energy efficiency, and also in part because the US economy has been shifting to service-oriented production that is uses less energy for each dollar of output produced. 

But looking ahead, at present about 0.1% of energy for US transportation come from electricity. If the market for electric cars expands dramatically, this will clearly rise--and given that much of the recharging of electric vehicles would happen in homes, the transmission of electricity to residences could rise substantially. Also at present, "12 percent of the energy used by industry came from electricity in 2019, almost all deep-decarbonization studies suggest that electrification of certain industrial end uses will be important."  More broadly, pretty much all aspects of the digital economy run on electricity. One estimate is that for the world as a whole,  "data centers and networks consumed around 380 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2014–2015, about 2 percent of total electricity demand."  
Of course, continual increases in efficiency of electricity use--say, by large household appliances and new light bulbs--could offset this rise in demand for electricity. On the other side, changes in more people using electricity in their homes or all purposes, rather than using natural gas or oil, could also shift electricity demand higher. 

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