EIA projects decline in transportation sector energy consumption through 2037 despite increase in VMT, followed by increase
EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 projects continued robust growth in US energy production, emergence of the United States as an energy exporter, and a cleaner S electric power generation mix. For the Transportation sector, EIA projects that energy consumption will decline between 2019 and 2037 (in the Reference case) because increases in fuel economy more than offset growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
The Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO2019) includes a Reference case and six side cases designed to examine the robustness of key assumptions.
Specifically, AEO2019 projects that:
Increases in fuel economy standards temper growth in US motor gasoline consumption, which decreases by 26% between 2018 and 2050.
Increases in fuel economy standards result in heavy-duty vehicle energy consumption and related diesel use remaining at approximately the same level in 2050 as in 2018, despite rising economic activity that increases the demand of freight truck travel.
Excluding electricity (which starts from a comparatively low base), jet fuel consumption grows more than any other transportation fuel during the projection period, rising 35% from 2018 to 2050. This growth arises from increases in air transportation outpacing increases in aircraft fuel efficiency.
Motor gasoline and distillate fuel oil’s combined share of total transportation energy consumption decreases from 84% in 2018 to 74% in 2050 as the use of alternative fuels increases.
Continued growth of on-road travel increases energy use later in the projection period because current fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards require no additional efficiency increases for new light-duty vehicles after 2025 and for new heavy-duty vehicles after 2027.
Light-duty vehicle miles traveled increases by 20% in the Reference case, growing from 2.9 trillion miles in 2018 to 3.5 trillion miles in 2050 as a result of rising incomes and growing population.
Over the same period, truck vehicle miles traveled, the dominant mode of freight movement in the United States, grows by 52%, from 397 billion miles in 2018 to 601 billion miles in 2050 as a result of increased economic activity. Freight rail ton-miles grow by 20% during the same period, led primarily by rising industrial output. However, US coal shipments, which are primarily via rail, decline slightly.
Air travel grows 77% from 990 billion revenue passenger miles to 1,753 billion revenue passenger miles between 2018 and 2050 in the Reference case because of increased demand for global connectivity and rising personal incomes. Bus and passenger rail travel increase 11% and 31%, respectively.
Domestic marine shipments decline modestly during the projection period, continuing a historical trend related to logistical and economic competition with other freight modes.
Energy use per passenger-mile of travel in light-duty vehicles declines nearly 40% between 2018 and 2050 as newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles enter the market, including both more efficient conventional gasoline vehicles and highly efficient alternatives such as battery electric vehicles. Light-duty vehicle energy efficiencies are affected by current federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards.
Energy use per passenger-mile of travel in aircraft decreases because of the economically driven adoption of energy-efficient technology and practices. Energy use per passenger-mile of travel on passenger rail and buses, already relatively energy-efficient modes of travel per passenger-mile, remains relatively constant.
Energy use per ton-mile of travel by freight modes decreases, led by increases in the fuel economy of heavy-duty trucks across all weight classes as the second phase of heavy-duty vehicle efficiency and greenhouse gas standards takes full effect in 2027.
Gains in energy efficiency offset increases in travel for passenger and freight modes. These efficiency gains decrease energy use by light-duty vehicles and freight trucks later in the projection and temper the rise in energy use by other transportation modes.
The combined share of sales attributable to gasoline and flex-fuel vehicles (which use gasoline blended with up to 85% ethanol) declines from 93% in 2018 to 75% in 2050 because of the growth in battery electric vehicle (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), and hybrid electric vehicle sales.
California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle regulation, which nine additional states have adopted, requires a minimum percentage of vehicle sales of BEV and PHEV. In 2025, the year the regulation and new federal fuel economy standards go into full effect, projected sales of BEV and PHEV reach 1.3 million, or about 8% of projected total vehicle sales in the Reference case.
Sales of longer ranged 200- and 300-mile BEVs grow during the entire projection period, tempering sales of the shorter-range 100-mile BEV and PHEV.
New vehicles of all fuel types show significant improvements in fuel economy because of compliance with increasing fuel economy standards. New vehicle fuel economy rises by 43% from 2018 to 2050.
EIA also finds that consumption of transportation fuels will grow considerably in the Reference case between 2018 and 2050 because of increased use of electricity and natural gas.
Other findings. The AEO2019 Reference case also projects significant continued development of US shale and tight oil and natural gas resources, as well as continued growth in use of renewable resources.
The AEO2019 Reference case projects that in 2020, for the first time in almost 70 years, the United States will export more energy than it imports, and will remain a net energy exporter through 2050. US energy export growth is driven largely by petroleum exports including crude oil and products, and by additional liquefied natural gas exports. These trends have become clearly established, and the Reference case shows them continuing for the next few years, and then slowing and stabilizing.
EIA’s Reference case also highlights the impact of sustained low natural gas prices and declining costs of renewables on the electricity generation fuel mix. Natural gas will maintain its leading share of electricity generation and continue to grow, increasing from 34% in 2018 to 39% in 2050. The renewables share, including hydro, also increases from 18% in 2018 to 31% in 2050, driven largely by growth in wind and solar generation.
The United States will continue to see record high levels of oil and natural gas production. According to the AEO2019 Reference case, US crude oil production will continue to set annual records through the mid-2020s and remain greater than 14.0 million barrels per day (b/d) through 2040. Continuing development of tight oil and shale gas resources will support growth in natural gas and natural gas plant liquid (NGPL) production, which will reach 6.0 million b/d by 2030, as well as the growth in dry natural gas production. Dry natural gas production will reach 43 trillion cubic feet by 2050. NGPLs grow faster than other fossil fuels, and account for almost one-third of cumulative US liquids production during the projection to 2050.
US net exports of natural gas will continue to grow, as liquefied natural gas becomes an increasingly significant export. In the Reference case, U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and pipeline exports to Canada and to Mexico increase until 2030 and then remain fairly constant through 2050 as relatively low, stable natural gas prices make US natural gas competitive in North American and global markets.