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Efficiency and gas drive decade of US energy transformation

The United States overhauled how it produces, delivers, and consumes energy over a significant decade of change, says a new report from BloombergNEF (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE). 

In the process, the country saw 10 straight years of economic growth, while cutting both power sector CO2 emissions and consumer energy costs to their lowest levels in a generation. 

The report: Sustainable Energy in America Factbook details how the US achieved a 25% rise in GDP since 2010, while primary energy demand rose by only 6.6% in the same period. It identifies natural gas, energy efficiency and renewable energy as key drivers of this transformation. 

Over the decade, natural gas became the primary source of US power generation, providing 38% of the country’s electricity in 2019 compared to 24% in 2010. The US increased its export capacity to exceed its import capacity, building stronger trade relationships around the world. In 2019, the US exported more gas than it imported says BNEF.

Meanwhile, an increase in the number of states and cities adopting energy use policies such as the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) or energy efficiency resource standards (EERS) has contributed to an 18% improvement in US energy productivity since 2010. Federal programmes have also helped high efficiency appliances reach mass markets. 

Since 2010, renewable energy has become the cheapest new generation source in many US power markets, says the report. The US has over double the renewable power generating capacity today than it did a decade ago. Solar capacity in 2019 was 80 times greater than what it was at the end of 2009. 

‘The transformation we have seen in the last decade has far exceeded expectations,’ said Lisa Jacobson, President of the BCSE. ‘The facts show that we grew the economy, improved energy security, and cut emissions at the same time – all while making energy more affordable to consumers.’

Improvements can also be seen elsewhere; the report highlights: 
  • battery technology is now a tenth of its cost in 2009; 
  • there are nearly over 85mn smart meters in US homes and businesses, up from 9.6mn a decade ago; and 
  • the number of residential natural gas customers grew by 8% in the last decade while overall residential consumption of gas rose by 5% due to energy efficiency. 
Despite these successes, some problem areas remain. The transport sector saw a 5% rise in emissions in the decade to become the largest contributor, accounting for 29% of the total in 2019. Last year, federal agencies also proposed weakening fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles, rolled back lightbulb regulations, and delayed issuing a permit for the nation’s first major offshore wind farm. 

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