In a year of energy records, possibly the most painful for consumers was record high gasoline prices and that brings us to the 10th top energy fact of 2012.
10. Gasoline will average about $3.63 per gallon in 2012, the highest annual average ever. Many families spent $2,000 to $3,000 during the year to gas one car and that cut purchasing power for other products.
Consequently, high gasoline prices nearly tipped the country back into recession, during the second quarter of this year, just as they had during the spring of 2011. Consumers fought back by cutting miles traveled and buying more fuel efficient vehicles, while more than 50,000 jumped to electric vehicles. Some fleet owners also began moving toward natural gas vehicles, but progress on using natural gas for transportation remains abysmally slow.
As for 2013, EIA projects gasoline to average about $3.40 for the year--another year of high, though not record, gasoline prices. The persistence of high prices, despite substantially higher domestic oil production and falling US oil consumption, painfully reminds that oil is globally priced.
Persistent high oil prices further remind that the only way to cut the threat that oil poses to our economic and national security is to slash its use. Uncle Sam has a lot of conserving and switching to other fuels to do, because oil remains America's top source of energy in 2012. And so high oil prices in 2013 will be a drag on the US economy.
9. While the headlines from the US wind industry focused on layoffs caused by the Congressional delay in extending the wind production tax credit, the wind industry will install about 12,000 megawatts of new capacity in 2012. That is a record, an astonishing number that will produce an amount of electricity in the course of a full year equal to about 6 nuclear plants the size of the Three Mile Island nuclear unit that continues to operate.
Ten years ago, only a few understood that wind power could add to the grid in a single year the equivalent of 6 nuclear units. This year turned that possibility into reality.
Wind's boom is creating political muscle and in key swing states. President Obama's superb campaign team says that the President's strong support of the wind industry helped him to carry by comfortable margins Colorado and Iowa, two states where wind produces as much as 20% of the electricity consumed and puts thousands to work. Bashing wind is increasingly bad politics, because wind energy is important to ever more communities, investors, and workers.
The delay in extension of the production tax credit means that new wind capacity in 2013 will fall but still is likely to be 1,000 to 3,000 megawatts. Wind energy in 2013 will come close to providing 5% of America's electricity. That's stunning!
Declining costs that make it increasingly competitive and strong public support means wind energy is here to stay.
8. Given the seriousness of climate change, resisting false claims about climate science or impacts of various energy sources, no matter whom makes them, is vital. Released in service of the anti-fracking campaign by Howarth, the false claim that shale gas production emits as much or more heat trapping pollution than coal has been debunked by 8 studies done by universities, environmental organizations, and the federal government's energy laboratories. Unfortunately, like some things climate deniers keep repeating regardless of the evidence, Howarth's false assertion that shale gas emits as much or more heat trapping pollution is repeated irresponsibly, misleadingly, and recently in a full page advertisement in the NYT signed by Yoko Ono and others.
Researchers from MIT did in 2012 the best study to date on methane leakage from shale gas wells that is at the heart of the claim that shale gas causes as much damage to the climate as coal. The MIT study is the 8th most important energy fact of 2012, because it eviscerates the key assumption in the Howarth study.
The MIT researchers looked at methane emissions from 4,000 shale wells and found that Howarth had exaggerated emissions by 7 to 30 times. How did Howarth do so?
To start, Howarth used measurements of methane leakage from 5 wells and then just assumed that all shale gas wells vented fully methane during the important flowback period. Looking at 4,000 shale gas wells, the MIT researchers found that 70% of shale gas wells actually use green completions to capture methane during the flowback period; 15% destroyed the methane by flaring; and only 15% vented. The MIT researchers also compiled economic data that showed green completions in 95% of wells quickly paid for themselves.
The truth is that shale gas emits 50% or less of the heat trapping pollution as coal, when both are used to make electricity and that the shale gas boom has played a key role in substantially cutting US carbon emissions. Those who want to stop fracking at all costs will continue to say gas and coal cause the same carbon loading of the atmosphere. Those who want to stop climate change are duty bound to say that gas emits 50% of the carbon of coal and claims to the contrary are false. That is a duty that some fighting climate change are failing badly.
7. The solar genie is out of the bottle. And that is great news for our economy and environment. This year solar alone will install 3,200 megawatts of new electric generating capacity.
That new capacity will produce in 2013 an amount of electricity equal to 1 nuclear plant the size of Three Mile Island.
And during peak hours, the 3,200 megawatts of solar capacity built will provide the equivalent of 2 nuclear plants.
Even if the solar industry just added 3,200 megawatts of new capacity every year for the next ten, solar would matter a great deal to energy markets. But solar's growth will continue. In 2013, the solar industry will add another approximately 4,000 megawatts of new capacity and still higher amounts over the next ten years.
Soon solar will be adding each year the equivalent of 4 to 6 nuclear plants during peak operating hours. That amount of new generation will powerfully reshape power markets, cutting wholesale electricity market peak and annual pricing.