Projection: The U.S. will become a net energy exporter by 2022

The U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) released a report Tuesday projecting that the United States will be a net energy exporter by 2022. The projections depend on what assumptions are made about the economy, the law, and the global price of energy over time. This year’s report models energy markets through 2050 using seven different sets of assumptions. One set, known as the “reference case,” assumes current technology and current law remain in place. Under that scenario, and four others the EIA considered, the US becomes a net exporter in just four years. In a few scenarios, the U.S. becomes a net exporter even sooner than that. From the press release for the report:

The United States has been a net energy importer since 1953, but AEO2018 projects the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022 in the Reference case. In the AEO2018 sensitivity cases that incorporate assumptions supporting larger growth in oil and natural gas production or that have higher oil prices, this transition is projected to occur earlier. In the High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, favorable geology and technological developments produce oil and natural gas at lower prices, supporting exports that increase over time.

Here’s a graph showing the various projections. As you can see, even in the worst case scenario, the U.S. winds up reducing imports (compared to now) for the next couple decades:

Last year, the EIA projected the U.S. was on its way to becoming a net exporter; however, at the time the group expected that wouldn’t occur until 2026. So in one year’s time, that projection has dropped from 9 years out to just four years out.

There is more good news in the report. For instance, electricity prices are projected to remain relatively flat through 2050 as production costs drop but distribution costs rise.

Average electricity prices are projected to remain relatively flat—ranging between 10.6 and 11.8 cents per kilowatthour (kWh)—through the projection period in the Reference case and the side cases (except for the Low and High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology cases)…

Utility-scale renewable energy, especially solar, is also expected to grow substantially by 2050:

In fact, the growth of solar and gas is projected to gradually replace other forms of energy production including coal and nuclear power:

In addition, most sectors of the economy will be getting more energy efficient over time, keeping the growth in demand for energy down. Of course, these are just projections, but the overall outlook seems fairly optimistic even under some of the less-than-ideal scenarios. It paints a picture of America’s energy future in which we have more than enough for our needs and prices remain relatively stable for decades to come.

Politically, Democrats better hope that a) we don’t cross this threshold before 2020 (possible under some scenarios) or b) Trump isn’t reelected. Trump claimed late last year that the U.S. had become a net energy exporter. He was given a “false” rating for that by PolitiFact, but he clearly sees this as a winning message. Of course, the trends involved here started long before he was president but the shift to net energy exporter is going to be low-hanging fruit for some national politician to grab. If Trump is still around, he’ll claim it as a sign America is doing great.