What’s in an energy forecast?

As Greentech Media reported, consultancy McKinsey & Company and global oil major British Petroleum both recently released 2019 outlooks for the global energy sector, and though both forecast that renewables will grow markedly in the coming years, the results present sharply divergent visions of just how much.  McKinsey projects that renewables will account for more than 50 percent of global power generation by 2035, while BP’s forecast puts renewables at just about 30 percent of power in 2040. The divergence between the scenarios shows that, even as oil and gas majors have publicly recognized the energy transition, their view remains out of step with many projections of what the future will look like.

Most energy forecasts predict that renewable energy will grow and that fossil fuel use will decline but to what extent has varied depending on who’s calculated the forecasts. BP, for instance, has previously admitted that it has underestimated renewable growth and the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts have also been off the mark. As Clean Technica explained, EIA has often come under fire for its outlooks, both short- and long-term, as it has repeatedly under-represented the growing role of renewable energy technologies in the future energy mix, and with its recently-published Annual Energy Outlook 2019 the EIA has once again missed the mark especially when it comes to the fact that it predicts wind energy will essentially flatline. The International Energy Agency (the international equivalent of the EIA) has been criticized for similar inaccurate forecasts for renewable energy.

Why This Matters: This begs the question, how useful are these long-range forecasts? For instance, BP’s forecast is thought to be so conservative because BP is a fossil fuel company and has an interest in seeing our reliance on fossil fuels continue. There’s also worry that because government forecasts such as those from the EIA and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have been so inaccurate that these agencies have become politicized and their data lacks credibility. This is problematic because lawmakers often cite EIA and IEA data when writing policy (and especially when they’re trying to stymy a transition to renewable energy by stating the conservative renewable projections). Michael Leibreich, founder of Bloomberg NEF, questioned in an op-ed why we continue to value forecasts “which communicate a false sense of stability and no insight into the key questions, namely what combination of actions can drive them towards one state versus another.” He also wrote a 10 step plan of how we can make energy forecasts better. Step 1: If you or your organization has been producing bad energy forecasts for decades, do an autopsy, Find out why.

Up Next

Deep-Sea Mining Becomes Battleground Between Conservation and Clean Energy

Deep-Sea Mining Becomes Battleground Between Conservation and Clean Energy

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The Biden administration and automakers are hatching plans to make electric vehicles (EVs) represent 40% of all car sales by the end of this decade. But as the government and the public begin to embrace the idea of an electric future, engineers and environmentalists struggle to balance new demand for […]

Continue Reading 628 words

New Study Finds 5% of World’s Power Plants Cause 73% of Power Sector’s Emissions


A new study has found that a small subset of power plants has been responsible for the majority of emissions— the top 5% of polluters are responsible for 73% of emissions from the electric sector. A group of researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder analyzed 2018 data from 29,000 fossil fuel power plants […]

Continue Reading 400 words
Majority of Americans Support Clean Energy By 2035

Majority of Americans Support Clean Energy By 2035

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Would you support or oppose the government moving the country to a 100% clean energy electricity grid by 2035? That’s the question Washington-based think tank Third Way posed across the country. It turns out that a majority of voters support federal action to reach a 100% clean energy grid. […]

Continue Reading 360 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.