Energy is assuming appropriately a prominent role in this year's campaign, but often facts are the first casualty of political debate. In the hope of infusing facts into the political dialogue ahead, I have compiled my selection of the most important energy facts of the President's first term.
Each fact was selected because of its importance to our economy, national security or environment. Different people will look at many of these facts and disagree about whether they represent progress or folly. Moreover, the President and his policies had a lot to do with creating some of the chosen facts but little or nothing to do with others selected.
Again, the point of the list is to select the most important energy facts of the President's term to provide a foundation for discussion.
12. US Solar power increased about 14-times since 2008, skyrocketing from 500 megawatts installed in 2008 to about 8,000 megawatts at the end of 2012, and solar prices declined about 75% to $2.50 per watt for large solar farms.
11. The global solar market reached $90 billion and was bigger than the global arms market in 2011.
10. Wind power increased from 25,000 megawatts installed in 2008 to about 55,000 megawatts by the end of 2012, as at least 7 states generated more than 10% of their electricity from wind, but Congressional inaction on the Production Tax Credit puts many 2013 projects on hold and triggers layoffs.
9. US carbon emissions decline to the lowest levels in 20 years, as a result of natural gas displacing coal and oil, more renewables, and energy efficiency. The US cut carbon emissions more than any nation in the world since 2006.
8. Toxic air emissions nationally declined 19% in 2010 and further declines took place in 2011 and 2012, because more coal plants installed scrubbers and more gas that emits no toxic air pollution was used to make electricity.
7. The electricity market share of coal-fired generation fell from 48% in 2008 to approximately 36% in 2012, and gas increased its generation market share to about 30% in 2012. In April 2012, gas and coal each supplied 32% of America's electricity.
6. Total US energy demand fell to 1998-1999 levels, with coal and oil consumption dropping respectively to 1985 and 1990 levels.
5. US Oil production rose another 12% in the first 7 months of 2012 and hit its highest level in 14 years.
4. Oil imports will drop to 42% of US oil consumption in 2012, the lowest level in 20 years, and down from 60% in 2005.
3. Sustained high oil prices caused in 2011 a new record high average annual gasoline cost of $2,850.
2. Thanks to shale gas that supplied about 37% of all US gas, natural gas production set new record highs in 2010, 2011, and possibly 2012, as the US became the world's top gas producer. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were directly and indirectly created by the gas boom.
1. Natural gas prices plummeted from $13 per thousand cubic feet in July 2008 to $2.75, saving many families $1,500 in gas and electricity costs, compared to 2008 pricing.
I pick the falling natural gas price as the biggest energy fact of the President's term, as it generated economic benefits estimated at $1 billion per day as of the Spring of 2012, and helped to prevent a double dip recession in both 2011 and 2012, as sustained high oil prices and a growing. European financial crisis cut growth. Falling natural gas prices also led to plummeting toxic air and carbon dioxide levels, because low-priced, cleaner gas is increasingly used to make electricity and heat buildings.
These facts don't answer important policy debates but do provide direction. For example, I believe the failure of Congress to pass the Natural Gas Act (the Pickens Plan), despite the domestic gas glut and high global oil prices, is a major mistake.
Energy facts are essential to good debate about tax policy, regulation, environmental and public health stewardship, national security, and economic growth. Most importantly, energy facts are essential to planning for the future and a vision for the nation, without which the nation moves blindly.