US Demand for Electricity Falls Further: What Does it Mean?

Layoffs at GE Power, for example.

The weekend started Friday night with layoff news from GE’s power division, in two locations.

First, there was Greenville County, South Carolina, where GE Power is one of the largest employers with 3,400 workers.

“Based on the current challenges in the power industry and a significant decline in orders, GE Power continues to transform our new, combined business to better meet the needs of our customers,” GE’s statement said in flawless corporate speak: “As we have said, we are working to reduce costs and simplify our structure to better align our product solutions, and these steps will include layoffs.”

GE Power has not disclosed the number of workers that are part of this layoff. The facilities make large gas turbines and turbine generator sets used by power plants. The plant also makes wind turbines.

Then there was GE Power’s facility in Schenectady, New York, which announced the layoff of an undisclosed number of employees, blaming “a significant decline in orders.”

GE Power has a problem: Electricity consumption in the US peaked in 2007 and has declined since, despite population growth of about 24 million people over the 10 years and despite economic growth.

The chart below, based on data from the Department of Energy’s EIA, shows annual electricity generation from 2001 through 2016. Note the growth in generation through 2007, the plunge during the Financial Crisis, the recovery, and the uneven decline since:

This trend continues in 2017. On Friday, the EIA released its Electric Power Monthly, with power generation data through September 2017. Over these nine months, electricity generation has fallen by 2.6% compared to the same period a year ago. Part of the year-over-year drop in August and September was due to the damaged electric grid in the areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

There are a number of reasons for the decline in demand for electricity, including more efficient heating and air conditioning systems, more efficient residential and commercial buildings, the switch to more efficient lights such as LEDs, the offshoring of power-intensive industries that started decades ago, the rise of rooftop solar, etc.

So the pie is shrinking for utilities. There is now no longer any doubt. But there is another interesting aspect to this phenomenon: How that shrinking pie is getting divvied up among the various sectors of electricity generation.

The most glaring aspect is the battle between natural gas and coal. And coal has been losing this battle for a decade for two reasons:

One, technical innovation. The Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) arrived in the 1990s. GE Power – yes, the one mentioned above – has been on the forefront with this technology. The gas turbine operates like a jet engine but drives a generator instead of fan blades. The hot exhaust gases then create high-pressure steam to drive a steam turbine connected to another generator. Thermal efficiencies reach 62% and beyond. Coal-fired power plants only use steam turbines, and thermal efficiencies average 33% globally.

Two, fracking. Starting in 2009, the surge in natural gas production from fracking created what people have called a “glut” in the US. The price collapsed to ludicrously low levels and has remained low, sending some natural gas drillers into bankruptcy.

Over the years, that combination — a highly efficient generating technology and the ludicrously low price of natural gas — has dethroned “King Coal,” cutting its share of power generation from 53% in 2000 to 30% in 2016, and sent a number of coal miners into bankruptcy.

The other winners beyond natural gas are wind and utility-scale solar. In 2000, they generated a minuscule amount of electricity. By 2016, they produced 6.5% more power than hydro.

This chart shows the major sectors of the power-generation portfolio of the US in gigawatt hours generated annually: note the dynamic between coal (black line) and natural gas (red line). While nuclear (yellow line) and hydro (blue line) have remained relatively stable, wind and solar combined (green line) have surged:

Regardless of how the pie is getting divvied up, the utilities have a problem: They’re operating in an industry with long-term declining demand. And these are the good times. In the second and third quarter, the economy grew by 3.0% and 3.3% annualized. Yet power generation fell in both quarters. And the utilities know what happens to demand for electricity when the business cycle turns.

This explains why utilities are so gung-ho about electric vehicles. They represent potential new demand for electricity that could pull power generators out of their quagmire. If utilities see that demand might be increasing enough to justify adding significant generating capacity to their systems, it could even spur new orders for GE Power and other equipment manufacturers. But getting to that level of critical mass in EVs is years down the road. For now, the quagmire of declining electricity demand remains.

While overall EV sales in the US are rising, Tesla’s sales fell in November amid a slew of problems. Read…. This is where Hype Goes to Die. Carmageddon for Tesla

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  159 comments for “US Demand for Electricity Falls Further: What Does it Mean?

  1. Nicko2 says:

    This is all great news for Planet Earth. Also yesterday, Guardian had a great piece on how Electric cars are now cheaper to run than petrol or diesel

    We’re passing the tipping point on renewables.

    • BoyfromTottenham says:

      Hogwash. Take away all the subsidies and EV sales would evaporate. The same with home solar panels.

      • Rin says:

        Can’t disagree with you! Is it the right thing to do? Will Trump take away the subsidies?

      • Max Power says:

        Correct. If you go through the study then you’ll see that’s it’s obvious that government incentives are the only reason why EVs have a slight advantage in the 4 year ownership cost. Otherwise, ICE vehicles blow EVs out of the water cost-wise.

        That said, personally I am not against EVs. I think that in the long run they will overtake ICE vehicles but it will take additional developments and innovation in battery technology to get there – which I believe will happen but it’s going to take time. My guess… probably a decade (about 6 more years of research and 4 years to commercialize the technology). That’s when the legacy automakers will enter the market in a big way. In the meantime, the giant sucking sound you’ll hear is Tesla shreding investors’ money.

        • QQQBall says:

          The EVs need to go 250 miles on a charge, but I drive alot. Combine with lower solar costs, you can charge at night at home.

      • Kent says:

        The subsidy of petroleum production is orders of magnitude greater than EVs. All for the soy latte socialist set.

        • robt says:

          Propaganda about ‘subsidies’ is a strategy to raise the price of fuel in order that so-called clean energy can begin to compete.
          The media is usually complicit in these efforts; naturally they are diligent in their reporting if fuel costs go up a few pennies (but never report declines) in response to the market.
          As technology improves, certain ‘clean’ energies will be able to compete. One example is the crash in costs of solar panels and their application in favorable (i.e. sunny) environments.
          But in advocacy (or better, enemies of oil) reports:
          – Exploration expense is classified as a ‘subsidy’.
          – Production expense to liquify nautural gas is classified as a ‘subsidy’, etc.
          Classifying production development and expenses is the usual tactic employed. The same sort of mentality exists when any tax relief is described as a loss for the government.

          “CBC Canada reported on [a] report, [from Oil Change International] but later issued a:
          This story has been updated from a previous version that misstated the title of the report as “Fossil Fuel Bailout.” In fact, it is “Empty Promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production.” A previous version also misstated CAPP’s position on subsidies. In fact, CAPP* says it does not see income tax and royalty tax programs for the industry as subsidies.”

          *Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

        • Gary says:

          Could someone post some information on this supposed “petroleum production subsidy”?

          I have a feeling there’s something being misunderstood.

        • Gary says:

          oops, I meant further to robt’s post.

        • Kent says:

          The United States spends well over $500 billion per year in the ME. This ensures a stable and low-priced flow of oil from the Gulf states. The USA also has laws which allow every American to pollute the environment with the residues of burning petroleum based products which has significant health effects on a number of Americans with no financial recourse.

          In a world without government interference in the petro markets, petroleum products would be too expensive for use in automobiles.

      • Petunia says:

        I’m in the conservative south and solar is popular here. It’s all about cutting the cord on highly regulated industries. They will continue going solar even without the credits.

        As an aside, if they stop net neutrality on the internet, I expect independent point of sight systems to flourish here. Good luck with all the liberal censorship.

      • Eric says:

        This is incorrect.

        EV subsidies are tapering down while EV sales are growing year on year.

        As an EV owner, the tax credit was a minor influence in my decision to buy one 3 years ago. I purchased an EV for it’s efficiency and it’s value. I drive about 1500 miles a month, and pay about $40 per month in electricity costs, not to mention the only maintenance costs I have had to do on my vehicle in 60,000 miles is buying new tires; no oil changes, no fluids.

        • Walt says:

          But Eric, you are being subsidized by all of us gas engine owners. We pay federal and state gasoline taxes, plus state sales taxes on the fuel, mostly to pay for the roads, bridges, etc., that you drive on for free. As the number of EV cars increase that won’t stay the same and you most likely will pay a mileage tax.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Corbin Dallas,

        Thank you for your observation, to which we can add the right-wing, identity politics certitude that they’re the only “real” Americans, and have sole power to define what American-ness is.

        Then there’s the pathologically inverted form of what you mention, not “virtue signaling,” but “hate/fear/anger signaling.” this form of mass compos dementis is rampant on the Internet. Instead of virtue signalling, you get a lot of little boys competing to get attention with their racism/sexism/homophobia/anti-Semitism, etc.

        I’m around liberal/left environments in a coastal city, and the moral preening can be ridiculous (although in truth the worst of it is expressed by affluent twits who consider themselves spiritually above politics, or consider their “sustainable” luxury consumption a form of politics), but I’ve also had plenty of exposure to its right-wing twin, locally and in other parts of the country.

      • Robert says:

        Correct. I have not seen a well-written , properly-researched and well-footnoted piece on the true cost of hybrid cars, EVs, solar panels, windmills and the like. Sans subsidies. There has to be such research, but I have not seen it.

        In my home, we are as green as our budget and our taste buds allow. We used twisty flourescent bulbs for a while, but there was that pesky mercury TOXIN, and now we are 100% LEDs. Really, 100%, even in the refrigerator.

        Neodymium magnets make home appliances much more efficient, but there are many ways to increase efficiency besides using stronger permanent magnets in the motors. When we replace any appliance, we buy the most efficient one, even if the cost is rather high. Doing our part.

        Here is one paper on cordless appliance efficiency:

        (This hold true for 120Volt appliances too). Again, the costs of creating such magical appliances needs to be weighed against the efficiency increase – the question being this: In the long run does the operational efficiency balance out the increased cost of production?

        I read an article a few years ago that believably stated this: if all light-consumers changed to higher-efficiency light sources, it would obviate the need to 30 power plants, nation-wide, over the next decade or two. Wouldn’t that be something if achieved ?

        At one of our warehouses, the operations manager spent $50,000.00, which was subsidized, installing overhead lights that switched on and off, quickly, as you traversed this large warehouse aisles. I know that the subsidy enabled this, but I would like to understand the net (i.e., long-term) savings, if any?

        My point is that people like me, and also many of you, are increasing household efficiency in meaningful ways.

        Might this be the cause of some significant part of the power-use reduction, AS STATED in Wolf’s article?

        Seems to me it is, but what do I know?

        • Tim says:

          “…now we are 100% LEDs. Really, 100%, even in the refrigerator.”

          and in the oven??

        • Robert says:

          OK, you caught my small white lie !

          I did not want to crawl into the oven, and I was also concerned about the effect high heat would have on the LED.

          And the microwave bulb also seems too difficult to change, also. Risk of harm to the MW box, IMO ! Other than that, all screw in bulbs using the Edison Screw have been replaced, ALL.

          I am sure that all future appliances will incorporate LED light to enhance product appeal and longevity.

        • Gibbon1 says:

          One thing that’s happening as well is variable speed brushless DC motors have become economical at smaller and smaller sizes. Even for lower duty cycle applications.

          That saved energy because a classic source of waste is an AC motor driving a pump where the flow is controlled by a throttle valve. Or the flow rate is allowed to run much higher than required.

          Variable speed drives just get rid of that.

          That, LED’s/Fluorescent and higher efficiency air conditioners (and houses) and other appliances also reduce energy requirement. Consider how much heat an old CRT produces compared to a modern LCD display. Yeah that.

          Upshot is efficiency gains are higher than household formation, means less power used overall.

        • Robert says:

          Thanks for your comment about brushless motors.I just upgraded my cordless drill with
          this: a 24V Lithium Ion KOBALT brushless drill. I get that 24V was the way to go, and Lithium Ion as well. But I had not heard of brushless until I read the Consumer Reports review of the drill.

          I will research based on your post — having replaced brushes (using toothpicks to hold the brushes in place) in the decades distant past, I cannot even imagine how brushless even works.

          Our current magical technology is just so wonderful – yet I am sure that the environmental cost of creating these devices is quite high, as Wolf and others have pointed out in this comment thread.

          It is difficult to live a balanced, yet green, life. I should say “challenging” instead.

        • d says:

          “a 24V Lithium Ion KOBALT brushless drill. I get that 24V was the way to go, and Lithium Ion as well. But I had not heard of brushless until I read the Consumer Reports review of the drill. ”

          Now research 36 volt plus solar arrays, MPPT controllers, 24 volt battery bank, and a 24 volt charger for they 24 volt drill.

          Those 9 and 18 and other odd voltage drills. Etyc are made in odd voltages so they can not be connected to common battery systems.

          Musk may be a con artist BUT his concept of solar/wind energy stored for later us not.

          I have Many Efficient rechargeable devices. None are recharged by grid electricity.

      • Robert Oconnor says:

        The real subsidy is GE pays zero in federal taxes

      • Mark out West says:

        Total crap, add in the environmental damage done by fracking/coal/NG leakage then EV vehicles are far cheaper. Also add in the cost of importing oil and the sums are further in EV favor.

        You yanks live in an alternate universe.

        • Emanon says:

          If you want to add in the cost of all environmental damage, then you should consider the cost of mining the rare earth elements used in the magnets, and also the materials used in the batteries, for EVs.

          Because the electricity used for EVs is still mostly from fossil fuels and nuclear, then much of the “environmental damage done by fracking/coal/NG leakage” and the damage from nuclear plants (uranium mining, radioactive waste disposal, etc.) should also be counted against EVs.

          We also don’t really know yet the life-cycle costs of disposing of millions of EVs with toxic materials. Many of their components can be recycled, but that also requires energy that still is provided mostly by fossil fuels and nuclear plants.

          It’s not a clear case of “clean” energy versus “dirty” energy, there are good and bad aspects to every type of vehicle.

          There’s no free lunch.

        • Mark out west says:

          Emanon this is straw man argument, scale brother, scale, the most egregious element to the rare earth is child labor which is easily rectified if the West had any consideration for anyone else but themselves.
          Given that the islands of the south pacific are sinking under water expansion due to global warming the issues you bring up are trivial at best.
          Sorry for being blunt but that’s how us Aussies are, we hate B8llsh8t.

        • Emanon says:

          @ Mark out west:

          It’s not a “straw man” to point out that an electric vehicle requires electricity, and that electricity is often generated by processes that pollute the environment to some degree.

          If China uses coal for 85% or so of its juice, then an EV in China in effect runs ~85% on coal on average, which might create more air pollution than a hybrid.

          It’s also logical to note that building EVs in the first place has some bad environmental effects, and that demolishing them when they are trashed also pollutes to some degree.

          “Scale” is a buzzword not an argument. If one of them generates X amount of pollution then a million of them generate 1,000,000 * X amount of pollution.

          It is technology, not magic.

        • patrick k says:

          You had me until you brought up the silliness of sinking Pacific islands….haha

        • d says:

          Although how he put it is incorrect, there is sinking (subsidence) and Rising Sea levels (due to Human accelerated global warming) in the same place, at the same time.

          Mainly due to excessive ground water extraction or mining.

          Jakarta has a huge problem with this, as do parts of india.

        • Mark Out West says:

          I itemised coal in my initial threat being a pollution factor so by reasonable extrapolation I would think that it was implying that EV’s would be power by renewable eg home solar panels predominantly (at least you have the option to get off the pollution grid)

          Most things will perish so your X factor is negated by the life cycle of the the ICV that the EV’s will replace and EVs are much more recyclable than ICV. They cost less to manufacture because if you are a fan of this blog you would acknowledge that Mexican slave labor is used to build most American cars. That scale is not part of the EV process at the moment.

          Re the Pacific Island’s (I know you yanks find it hard to recognise anything outside you own state but it aint Indonsesia) if something is rising then cause something else to fall.

      • Winston says:

        “Hogwash. Take away all the subsidies and EV sales would evaporate. The same with home solar panels.”

        Also, too many forget the following part of the equation. Only recently has the combined watt-hour output of every solar panel ever made paid back the conventional energy used to produce them:

        Solar panels repay their energy ‘debt’: study
        December 6, 2016

        The climate-friendly electricity generated by solar panels in the past 40 years has all but cancelled out the polluting energy used to produce them, a study said Tuesday.

        Indeed, by some calculations, the so-called “break-even point” between dirty energy input and clean output may already have arrived, researchers in the Netherlands reported.

        • mean chicken says:

          When does the solar cell factory itself, begin producing net positive energy? Silicon ingot production requires high temperature for long periods but newer technologies will reduce manufacturing energy consumption, increase (hopefully) life cycle and power output.

          The irony is that utilities need to rely on storage batteries in EV’s to maintain future sales while those same batteries enable off-grid housing.

      • Kraig says:

        Not if you took away all the subsidiaries for coal and oil and gas too. Perhaps all energy subsidiaries should be stopped and reduce let the market decide. All the data I’ve seen suggest in a free market only wind,coal and oil would be uncompetitive. Look at how much petrol (gas) costs in countries without the us subsidiary.

      • Dave says:

        Well I for one am happy with the subsidies, and not for environmental reasons (though the added bennie is nice).

        I want to wean fossil fuels for geopolitical reasons. The Middle East is a HUGE trouble spot and the less attention and influence that region has on geopolitics the better. Decreasing reliance on fossil fuels is a GREAT thing for this.

    • Yaun says:

      Whether EVs are great for planet earth depends on the energy mix. Diesel engines are more efficient than the Coal > Electricity > EV engine chain. As long as the coal power part of the mix is high and the wind/solar low, you are not going to do the world a service by driving an EV.

      Good though is that energy conservation is slowly on the rise. In particular in terms of thermal insulation the US is really behind in comparison to Europe (thanks to low electricity costs and thus low incentives to invest).

      • Mike Earussi says:

        EVs are still “great” even with the mix you indicated since they help to mitigate city pollution that raises health care costs, so that really should be factored into your price equation as well. It’s also much easier to control air pollution at a few electric power generating plants than at the 10,000 tail pipes they replace.

        • roddy6667 says:

          Here in China a lot of the current electrical power plants were built 10-20 years ago outside city limits. The cities have grown exponentially, and now the plants are inside densely populated areas. It is not easy to move these plants. They are building tons of new plants and 20 nuclear power plants are under construction.

        • Realist says:

          What about the operations to extract the metals needed for EV batteries ? Of course that takes place in 3rd world countries, so the enviromental price for that isn’t paid by 1st world EV owners.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          How about the operations to extract the metals needed to build an internal combustion engine (you know, the motor), transmission, cooling system, starter motor, battery, intake system, exhaust system including catalytic converter, fuel system, and a million other things needed in an ICE power train?

        • NotMyPresident says:

    • BobbyBoy says:

      Hydro rates here went up not too long after the Hydro companies realized they were making less money due to conservation and energy efficienct lights bulbs. Same with water rates, once too many people conserve (with low flush toilets) then the rates also rose to make up the difference. Nobody will go broke, hydro rates will eventually rise just for the sake of profits. Then spike once EV numbers start to become meaningful.

    • ian says:

      Planet earth will do just fine as it has for millions of years and huge changes in temperature. Humans? Perhaps not so much but you reap what you sow.

      • cienfuegos says:

        Humans are a species in search of a banana peel…and they will find it.

  2. Roddy Pfeiffer says:

    As manufacturing leaves America, so does the need for the electricity to run factories. As people have the same disposable income as in 1967, they cut back on their usage because they can’t afford to pay. Yeah, this is all great news for Americans.

    • unit472 says:

      That is essentially Gail Tverberg’s argument in her blog “Our Finite World’. Energy consumption and GDP are inherently linked and if energy consumption is not rising then the GDP data is fake.

      There can be some marginal gains in ‘efficiency’ but the low hanging fruit was picked decades ago when oil prices exploded. With oil, gas and electric prices where they are today it doesn’t make a lot sense to pay $5000 to $10,000 more for an EV other than to virtue signal

      • Álvaro says:

        GDP data is fake since the FED is distorting it with QE. Gail is correct.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      Yep nothing like a falling standard of living to decrease energy use.

      I’m helping with the move to our new shop, about a mile away. I’ve love to have something like a little Toyota SR5 pickup truck to do this, but any car at all is so far beyond my budget that I’m using a bike trailer and feel like a big spender because I was able to buy a new bike trailer.

      Poor people do some very “green” things.

      • Realist says:

        Look at the bright side, all the bike needs is a cold beer to keep the guy on top pedaling

        • Bob in Scottsdale says:

          Yeah, but what is the environmental cost of producing the beer and shipping it to the store? And don’t get me started on the hazardous waste!

  3. d says:

    You could read that GE layoff another way.

    Those using the black stuff, see a regulation respite under P 45. So do not feel pressured to replace coal generation, until they are forced to. Post P 45.

    Rising sea level’s can now not be stopped, only the pace can be changed.

    Perhaps the P 45 plan is to repay china for its unfair trade practices, by speeding up Human accelerated global warming. So flooding much of low land china and Vietnam. Much sooner.

    The sugar cane fields, in much of the Mekong Delta are already becoming unusable, due to Salinity (Rising salt water table) even cattle will not eat Sugar cane, that tastes salty. As Vietnamese sugar cane farmers, have discovered, the hard way.

    • Petunia says:

      I read that Trump’s recent trip to China concluded with trade deals which included GE’s sale of natural gas generators to China, a bunch of them. I don’t think China needs anymore proof that coal is not good for them.

      • d says:

        “I read that Trump’s recent trip to China concluded with trade deals which included GE’s sale of natural gas generators to China,”

        Then You should also KNOW

        NO DEALS WERE CONCLUDED. By P 45 in china.

        What was Concluded, was an undertaking to investigate and possibly complete deals, related to several sectors.

        Read the FACTS behind the P 45 hype.

        Not just P 45 but other political also regularly make these HUGE deal claims that are in effect only agreements to talk about X, Y and Z. Nothing More.

        • Petunia says:

          GE is swirling down the drain and needs all the business it can get. Therefore, I would assume they are ready to deal in earnest and YOU know the Chinese need to buy if they want stuff that works.

  4. mike says:

    Nicko. Except for the fact their article isn’t true. It leaves off resource cost, replacement battery cost and a myriad of other real costs to make EV’s look cheaper than they actually are.

    Take for example the resource cost in terms of initial battery production, using lithium carbonate leaving toxic mess all over the place. Or the Independent Swedish report suggesting a Tesla S battery alone was equivalent of driving 8.2 years in a moderate size diesel, and that was JUST the battery, and where its likely it won’t last that long, both in terms of efficiency and technology as the Tesla batteries are actually Panasonic last generation technology.

    Or take the FACTS (hard I know) that the tests for Tesla were dubious to say the least, and especially in Germany where indirectly the German government has an interest in Tesla.

    Or take another FACT that EV’s mileage and efficiency are usually based on a temperature range such as California, where in the real world, you try getting the mileage in Norway, where you have to have lights on and heater on, the discharge rate is massive.

    Most of Europe has the same problem, so estimated ranges just go out of the window.

    Then take off the subsidies that will have to be removed, then add the cost of lost revenue from hydrocarbon taxes.

    • Nick Kelly says:

      All good points except last: you can’t debit or credit a power or technology based on whether it’s taxed or by how much. That is a political decision.
      Here in BC for example. we pay tax on electricity, but more on gasoline.

      But the tax on electricity could be raised if we went majority electric. Meaning the rate, obviously revenue would rise automatically but not by enough to replace the 30% fuel tax.
      More likely would be a road tax, paid yearly (but in monthly installments if needed) when renewing car insurance.

      Over the centuries, taxes have been placed on a variety of things that would strike us as odd: salt for example. But it’s whatever a government decides. In New Zealand there are NO exceptions to the sales tax, so food is taxed.

      The highest current tax rate of all is on cigarettes over 50 % of purchase. This brings in a lot of money but is not a good reason to preserve the habit of smoking.

      • robt says:

        There used to be an unwritten rule that food not be taxed. But desperate needs (the exponential cost of government) provoke desperate deeds. In Canada the salami approach is employed: tax treats and candy and ‘unhealthy’ foods … inevitably, food will be taxed.

        An apocryphal(?) story is told about a British government minister, who upon witnessing a demonstration in the early 19th century of the viable production of electricity asked: “But what is it good for?” The demonstrator responded: “You can tax it, my Lord.”
        Presumably, smiles all around.

      • d says:

        “In New Zealand there are NO exceptions to the sales tax, so food is taxed”

        ! it is not a sales TAX

        GST goods and SERVICES tax.

        Property taxes are considered a cost of a service so on top of the first tax YOU PAY 15% GSTAX,. Same with Vehicle registration and many other “Mandatory” service costs.

        The GST take from mandated tax on taxes is HUGE.

        Doctors visits and prescriptions are also subject to GST.

        About the only thing that is exempt is resedentioal property rentals “Currently”.

        GST was sup[posed to bring taxes on wages DOWN and reduce many other INDIRECT TAXES.

        IT HASNT.

        The NZ GST system is one of the most unfair and aggressive in the world. It has even raised the attention of the WHO, as it is on ALL Medical expenses.

        • Nick Kelly says:

          Yes D, I KNOW.

          The correct term for both is VAT or Value Added Tax but I didn’t want to confuse North Americans and especially Canadians most of whom have never heard the term.

          Even the GST is not JUST a sales tax,it is a VAT,which includes sales but is not limited to sales. If someone buys a widget wholesale and sells it retail for double, the item became more valuable and tax is owed.

          But the VAT or GST can be owed even if there is no sale.
          The late painter Tony Onley found this out after a run in with Rev Canada.
          Tony would get up in the morning, take ten dollars worth of canvas,and five worth of paint, work a few hours and voila, there is a Tony Onley worth say five thousand.
          So when did he become liable for the GST?

          Right away, at the end of the day. The painting didn’t have to be sold. Value has been added, and the GST, being the broader VAT, was applicable.

          This required a change in Canadian law. An exception was carved out for an artist to add works to his personal collection.
          But it had to be an exception because the GST is not just a sales tax.
          A whole bunch of weird things happened at the 1990 intro of the GST. An elderly couple offered to donate valuable land to the province for a park. Not a sale a donation.
          Rev Can had their hand out for seven percent.

          A personal anecdote that has no direct connection: days before GST came in my ex and new guy bought a pub with land for 500K.
          They had their financing all arranged and came into to sign the papers and then as an afterthought the notary says: ‘Oh, and there is the 35 thousand dollar GST’

      • RG says:

        Government is addicted to the taxes made on tobacco, so legal tobacco is here to stay.

    • roddy6667 says:

      I found this somewhere and saved it:
      “Currently 65-70% of all electricity generated in the US is from fossil fuels.
      A vast majority of those fossil fuel electric power plants are about 35-38% thermal efficient. The balance of the fuel’s energy is wasted.
      Electricity is wasted during the distribution in the power lines, charging the battery, vampire battery losses, and discharge losses when operating the vehicle.
      The net result is that a Tesla uses about 20-23% of the energy value in the fuel.
      On the other hand, a Prius hybrid vehicle uses about 40% of the energy in the fuel.
      So, a hybrid is almost twice as energy efficient as a pure EV. PLUS, the EV is much heavier which further decreases energy efficiency.
      Yes, an electric motor is about 95-98% energy efficient, but that is the smallest part of the equation.
      When you can assure me that all EV’s will not use electric grid power and will only use self generated non-fossil fuel I will start listening to your biased nonsense which, at this time, is not supported by any back of the envelope scientific analysis. “

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Once you adjust your assumptions to the current reality, it looks different: 62% of electricity is generated by fossil fuels. Over half of that is via natural gas. Much of the NG-fired power generation is via CCGTs, with thermal efficiency of 62% plus. Incorporate this into your assumptions to recalculate the comparison.

        This entire comparison is flaky, starting with the wrong assumptions.

      • Lune says:

        If you’re going to include transmission losses for electricity, then you should include transmission costs for gasoline i.e. how much energy is required to bring a barrel of oil from the Middle East to a refinery, then how much is required to pump it through pipelines to regional depots, then how much energy trucks waste delivering it to your local gas station. After all, gasoline doesn’t just drop from the sky and collect neatly in your local gas station…

        But really, this is a nonsensical approach. The “cost” of something as complicated as gas or electricy (or an EV vs ICE) can be manipulated a hundred different ways based on your bias. But here’s a truth that isn’t going away: regardless of where were are right now, renewable energy costs are dropping rapidly, while fossil fuel costs are at best stable, and likely increasing long term. So why do we want to plan our long-term energy needs around the latter?

        • Gibbon1 says:

          Also can point out that gasoline production is moderately energy intensive itself. Feed stocks are distilled, chemically converted, and then blended to produce gasoline.

          Probably 5-10% of the energy on the oil feed stocks is consumed by the refinery.

  5. Silly Me says:

    Another significant cause for the decline is the death of domestic manufacturing…

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      Already treated in the article: “…the offshoring of power-intensive industries that started decades ago…”

    • Jim Graham says:

      Ditto ditto ditto ad infinitum

  6. 2banana says:

    A few things pop out of this article.

    Nuclear power, despite all the hate and negative fake news media coverage, is holding remarkably steady.

    GE is poorly managed bankrupt crony company. I would not use it as a “bell weather” for anything. Maye 30 years ago. Not today.

    Another angle to look at the data. The economy peaked in 2007 and then went into a recession. It has never recovered. The massive Obama Administration deficits and fake economy may have papered over it, but there was never a recovery (which the average man of the street would tell you in a heartbeat).

    Trump wants to bring manufacturing back to America. If we see energy usage rise in the next few years, the data will support him.

    When the president of the United State says “If you want to build a coal power plant, I’ll bankrupt you” (President Obama, January 17, 2008, San Francisco) and then uses the massive power of the United States Government to do just that, what market forces are really at work? And then when the same administration literally shoves tens of billions of taxpayer money at solar and wind companies in grants and credits (no matter how poorly managed they are) – It is NOT market forces at work, but politics and crony capitalism.

    And that can change in an instant. Or an election.

    I expect both coal and wind/solar to “level out” in the next few years.

    And I would bet coal actually has a small rise is usage and wind/solar declines just a bit (when the subsidies are removed and they have to compete on a more level field)

    • John says:

      Most everything you say makes sense, but don’t be betting on that. Most often, the one who bets with logic on his side is the loser.
      Of course the real economy hasn’t improved for the lowest 90%. And its only improved for the other 10 due to an outfit that can print money at will, buying stocks every day, thus forcing that market higher and higher. They may have a problem though, when the divide gets worse and worse. Which it will do expotentialy.

      • 2banana says:

        Logic and fundamentals matter – eventually.

        And yes – I know the markets can stay insane longer than I can stay solvent.

        The irony with democrats. The bigger and bigger government becomes, with more and more regulations and higher and higher taxes – the GREATER the “wealth” divide becomes.

        If Trump can get away from the crony “pick the winners based on politics and donors” Obama economic model, slash regulations and have a more market based economy – the wealth divide will SHRINK.

        • P. Coyle says:

          whilst i agree with you in theory, i guess we will have to wait on the whole practice thing to play out to see how it truly works out. as a card carrying member of the 99%, i will go with experience here, and put my money on “i get screwed somehow for $500, alex!”

    • Nick Kelly says:

      The US and Canada are awash in cheap natural gas and will be for at least a century. Why would you keep mining and delivering coal to a plant over and over when you can (1) run a pipeline to the plant if it’s near the gas field or (2) construct the plant near the gas field and ship the power to the grid via high voltage line.
      Either are one- time projects: once you’ve done them you don’t do them over and over.
      Trump’s blather can’t reverse the decline in coal and it has already failed to do so. Long time players in the coal fields including a union president have condemned the false hope raised purely for political gain.

      BTW: note the decline in US coal would continue for purely economic reasons. But China and India who so far are NOT awash in natural gas are importing LNG even though coal is cheaper. The reason being that even by their standards, the air in Bejing and Delhi is becoming unbreathable.
      Last week in Delhi it was estimated that just walking around was the equal of smoking 40 cigarettes.

      • 2banana says:

        (1) run a pipeline to the plant if it’s near the gas field

        Pipelines take DECADES to build with crazy environmentalists and far left wing politicians fighting it the entire time

        (2) construct the plant near the gas field and ship the power to the grid via high voltage line.

        Massive line loss makes it uneconomical.

        More reasons:

        Extremely dangerous to move and store natural gas. Coal can be shipped safely and stored for safely for centuries.

        Gas in a “just in time” kind of energy. Great until things go bad (weather, earthquake, sabotage, leaks, etc.). Which is why many power plants like a MOUNTAIN of coal right next to them.

        And the biggest – The United States has massive amounts of coal reserves. You just don’t give up on that kind of massive amounts of energy within your own borders. Technology gets better every day. No one heard of fracking and then it exploded into the economy.

        Gas has its place.

        Coal also has its place.

        The market will decide the percentage of each if allowed.

        • Night-Train says:

          Coal has a place. It is the 19th century. Technology does change, but it is a bad bet to continue bad behavior and expect technology to bail us out. And finally, fracturing oil and gas wells has been around for a good part of the industry’s history. Today’s methods are better than dumping a bunch of dynamite down the hole, throwing in a Go-Devil, and running for cover. But hydraulic fracturing multiple laterals from a single pad also has limits. Reservoir rocks vary in composition, porosity, and permeability, as do the liquids in the reservoir like viscosity for example. How much can be extracted at a price point varies from reservoir to reservoir. Some of these reserves are recoverable with today’s tech. Much more will need additional tech and a higher prices to make it recoverable.

          So, it is perfectly alright to leave coal reserves where they were deposited and coalified. The same is true of petroleum reserves. If something better comes along, what harm is there in leaving the fossil fuels in place?

        • Gary says:

          Pipelines take DECADES to build with crazy environmentalists and far left wing politicians fighting it the entire time

          I worry more about the crazy capitalists who value pieces of green paper more than clean air and clean water.

        • Nick Kelly says:

          British Columbia has sold hundreds of millions worth of hydro electricity to California, but not directly via a dedicated line.
          BC supplied it to the US grid which resells it at several points down the line.
          However dedicated long distance high voltage lines are feasible. Power from Northern Quebec is either sold or will soon be (it was under construction last year) to New York via a 300 mile long line.

          Re: the market. The world’s biggest coal users who normally ignore pollution have decided breathable air has quite a high value, so much so it’s worth shutting down steel mills. To put it in math terms, as the quality of air approaches zero, the value of breathable air, i.e. life, approaches infinity.

          But they have a problem, they’ve left it too late. Either Delhi or Bejing has the possibility of a six- figure, overnight, human die off, like you see with fish in low oxygen water.
          It just needs the right climate conditions, extreme pressure inversion with no wind.

        • baldski says:

          Natural gas is shipped daily on over 300 LNG carriers plying the world’s oceans without accident. It is safe.

      • d says:

        “Why would you keep mining and delivering coal to a plant over and over when you can”

        When you own, or have a major financial interest in

        1 the coal mine

        2 the rail line

        3 the electricity generator

        or of those thing’s, you would. The America Crony Capitalist system at work.

      • William says:

        Like it or not, the electoral college is the subsidy keeping the coal industry alive. That’s my I researched, pure gut instinct talking.

      • Matt Schilling says:

        Oh gee, a union president said something? Well, that settles it, then! It’s a darn shame all technological advances have already been discovered. Well, except for this one:

    • Roger says:

      Here is what Obama actually said: “So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

      Clarification by WaPo: “In other words, Obama was talking about disincentives to building coal-powered plants with old technology, not coal plants with cleaner technology. That’s an important distinction. He is also talking about a hypothetical, not making a “vow” to bankrupt coal operators.”

  7. BTilles says:

    Hi Wolf,

    Your article raises an interesting (at least for me) question. I don’t think anyone would disagree about electricity being vital. But longer term given the dismal growth figures you portray (EVs notwithstanding) is it still a business? Anf if not, what structures are apptopriate?

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      In common with many other industries in the U.S. over the years, power generation and distribution will just shrink and survive.

      One example, steel production:

    • David, by the lake says:

      Electric utilities, along with all capital-intensive network industries providing a “natural monopoly” service, ought to be run as a not-for-profit or cooperative. I left a for-profit investor-owned utility many years ago to work for a publicly-owned municipal — the spirit and purpose of the enterprise fit much better with my philosophy. We serve the need and cover the costs of operations without a profit motive as we have no investors to pay.

      • robt says:

        Publicly owned utilities invariably misallocate revenue rather than invest in maintenance and improvement, and underprice delivery costs due to political considerations, to be subsidised from general state revenue. James Mavor, a professor at the University of Toronto wrote a series of articles in the Canadian press in 1916 when controversy about confiscating the private assets of what became Ontario’s Hydro Electric was an issue. And yes, Ontario Hydro did finally go bankrupt, with a line item on everyone’s electricity bill for many years to honor payment of bonds (I wonder who held the bonds …).

        • BTilles says:

          Ontario Hydro has been known as Hydro One for the last 19 years. It was wholly owned by the provincial govt until around 2015. When did this essentially municipal entity file for bankruptcy?

        • robt says:

          Ontario Hydro went bankrupt in the late ’90s, with 38 billion in debt.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        David, by the lake,

        I share your philosophy – I’m a public school teacher – but the problem is that the people who control the government and investment decisions in the US, to use the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher, don’t believe “society” exists, let alone any notion of the public good. It’s grab what you can, while rising on the throat of your neighbor.

        • Steve says:

          Michael, couldn’t agree more.

          The true solution is a few billion less people. Solves so many of our economic and environmental issues. Only one problem, which people; personally I’d start with Politicians, lawyers and CEO’s then work down from there.

        • Bruce Turton says:

          To Steve: Maybe the correct way to state what you said is to “work our way down from there”!!

      • Matt Schilling says:

        “not for profit” is an accounting trick, and tells us nothing about the opulence of the outfit. In many mid-sized cities the “not for profit” NPR affiliate is the glitziest radio/TV studio in town, with the highest salaries – all subsidized with government funds expropriated from the people.
        As for your disrespect on display towards “a profit motive”, I take it part of your philosophy was receiving a salary that barely met your basic needs for a spartan living and not a dollar more, right? I bet your tiny salary would’ve been daunting to Gandhi!

  8. Scott says:

    I’m pretty sure the electric utilities have always be big backers to electric vehicles, going back to when Thomas Edison and Henry Ford worked to develop a cheep one.

    One thing to remember about electric prices is the need to think of them as two parts: generation and transmission & distribution. Generation prices are generally flat or even lower than they were five years ago in many competitive markets. This has led to the bankruptcy of not only smaller generators but whole units of large IPPs, like NRG’s Genon unit and Exelon’s Texas business.

    However the T&D rates have increased to the point where they are now the largest portion of consumer’s bills. This portion has increased often higher than inflation, but is masked by the decline in generation rates. These “wires only” utilities view building out the infrastructure as an opportunity to expand their rate base at their ROE, which seems to average around 10% these utilities.

  9. Mike F. says:

    @Nicko2 “We’re passing the tipping point on renewables.”

    How about that coal fired electricity charging your special little EV that couldn’t be sold without Govt. handouts? Doesn’t seem so green to me…

  10. David Rohn says:

    The increase in nat gas consumption alongside the increase in electric powered / hybrid vehicles says that these cars are essentially gas powered..a slight improvement over oil / gasoline powered vehicles as long as fracking damage is left out of the equation..
    -But when diminished power consumption is placed alongside the collapse of retail, we have to go back to the problem of a stagnant economy with official (tweaked) economic stats that suggest a rosier economic picture than is actually true;
    Lets face it: for a very large number of people, living standards never recovered after the 2008 collapse, and for young adults who more or less entered the workforce since then, a middle class US living standard never happened.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      Wages have been essentially flat since 1966:

      • walter map says:

        The US work force is still down by more than 2.3 million since 2000. Total debt per family is over $800k. Other statistics are even more grim and get worse every year.

        Clearly, the US middle class is being phased out. The class war is over. What you’re mostly seeing are the mopping up operations.

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

        The min. wage in 1966 was equivalent to something like $17 an hour now.

        And yes, overall, wages have been essentially flat.

        People used to live in much smaller houses, walk and bike and take the bus more, even with those neat-O 60’s cars being made and yes, people bought them but then you’d have “the” family car not his and hers and the kid’s since he just graduated HS.

        People lived in thrifty ways. Mom was generally at home, doing all the cooking (even in the 1970s McDonald’s was a special treat) and often things like sewing (certainly mending) and taking care of the yard/garden (which Dad mowed).

        This thrifty living enabled them to buy that wonderful 800sf starter house by the railroad tracks (or maybe by the pig farm but it was mostly OK when the wind blew its usual direction).

        What hasn’t been essentially level is social mobility. It was easy to climb up as well as to fall down, now it’s very hard to climb up, very easy to fall very far down.

  11. Anon1970 says:

    If Wolf looked at his old electric bills from PG&E, he would find the answer. Electricity rates (cost per kilowatt) have been among the fastest growing items in my household budgets. Two years ago, I gave away an old Plasma TV because it used so much power (400 watts per hour of use) and replaced it with a bigger LED LCD TV that uses less than half the power. In the last few years, PG&E’s base rate went from around 13 cents per kw to around 19 cents.

    • JB says:

      good point- the cost of unused capacity gets passed on to the consumer.

      • P. Coyle says:

        only if you fail to unplug the unused items. if you unplug things you are not using, it is amazing how much less power you “use” come bill time.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Just wait what PG&E will do to our bills when it has to settle the lawsuits and pay for damage awards arising from the fires in the North Bay. No one has yet said officially that they were caused by vegetation not being trimmed around power lines, but that has been the case before, and numerous data points have emerged that point that way.

      Dividends and creditors are sacred. Rate payers can be squeezed like lemons.

      • BTilles says:

        We agree. But if the state utility commission did want to send the utility a message, they could simply disallow all the repairs and related litigation expense. (Stop laughing, it could happen.) And then in that case the “bite” would come out of the shareholder’s pocket as the co. was forced to sell new (dilutive) shares to maintain credit ratings. At least this is what a somewhat pro-public-interest move might look like.

        • Anon1970 says:

          The legislature tried that route in 2000 when its deregulation process caused PG&E to go bankrupt, as it was paying more in the rigged wholesale market (remember Enron?) than it was allowed to charge its retail customers. It literally lost money on every kw of electricity that it sold. When the company went bankrupt, it could no longer buy power on the wholesale market and the State was forced to step in through the California Department of Water Resources. 17 years later, its customers are still paying a DWR charge to pay off the bonds issued by the the Dept. of Water Resources. It appears as a line item on every PG&E bill.

    • Bruce Turton says:

      Just curious. My rate per kw/h is around 3.4 cents. Are you including all the costs of transmission, taxes, administration, etc.?

      • Mike Earussi says:

        Where do you live? I haven’t seen that rate in 25 years.

        • Bruce Turton says:

          Edmonton, Alberta. Your surprise suggests that the actual charge per kw/h is 19 cents. Our electricity comes from a natural gas plant near the city. I do not know if it is Combined type of plant.

        • Anon1970 says:

          Part of the bill is priced at 19.979 cents per kw and the rest at 27.612 cents. Twice a year I get a small credit under the state’s “global warming program”. The good news is that California’s Proposition 13 is still in place and is helping old timers like me stay in their homes.

  12. walter map says:

    “US Demand for Electricity Falls Further: What Does it Mean?”

    The lights are going out.

  13. Hobbit says:

    My electricity provider overbills me every month. Even if I cut back, shut off everything the bill still comes to within five bucks. It got worse after they installed one of the remote digital meters that don’t require someone to read it. My guess is they make the meter read whatever they want it to read which is much more difficult with the old analog technology.

    There is always a base rate that goes up every year. For my modest 1 bedroom where I keep the lights off and don’t have a tv is the same bill $165/month for my parents with a mid sized 2 bedroom home and an analog meter. Both use gas heat.

    What frustrates me is there is NO way to lower costs.

    Take a look at how much the electricity providers are making vs how much capacity they’re providing.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      $165 a month for a 1-bedroom with no TV is nutz!

      Back before the crash I had a 1-bedroom apartment and being the night owl I am I had the lights on a lot, and my PG&E bill was about $20 a month.

      Where I am now we’re paying commercial rates for electricity and still no TV (I blast the radio a lot though) and have lots of lights on and I’m paying $30-$40 a month.

      You growing …. medicine?

      • will says:

        More likely he has an appliance that’s malfunctioning and sucking down a ton of power. Best place to start would be to buy a “Kill-a-watt” for ~$15 and start checking the draw on everything plugged in..

        If that doesn’t work another thing you can do is go outside and turn off all the power going to your meter and then wait and see who else in the building starts complaining about the power going out. I’ve seen houses miswired where a socket is drawing from a neighbor’s meter.

        Hope this helps.

        • Nick Kelly says:

          The fridge is the biggest user in a non-electric heat, no air con house. An old fridge can be so inefficient it runs 24 hrs a day.

    • Prairies says:

      I agree with the others responding, make sure a neighbour isn’t tied into your side of the grid (like the old cable tv stealing neighbours lol) either that or you might have a fridge or freezer in need of a replacement.

  14. Thomas R Kauser says:

    Sells projections are an unknown science! Bye!

  15. walter map says:

    Subsidies for renewables are temporary. Once installed, the subsidy for a given facility can be discontinued.

    Subsidies for fossil fuels are forever, and fossil fuels have historically received most of the subsidies.

    A 2016 study estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies were $5.3 trillion in 2015, which represents 6.5% of global GDP . . .

    A 2011 study by the consulting firm Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI)[30] estimated the total historical federal subsidies for various energy sources over the years 1950–2010. The study found that oil, natural gas, and coal received $369 billion, $121 billion, and $104 billion (2010 dollars), respectively, or 70% of total energy subsidies over that period.

    Of course, these fossil fuel financial subsidies do not include the externalized long-term economic costs: degradation due to pollution, increased health costs, ecological destruction, climate change, more expensive equipment, and so forth, totalling trillions in indirect subsidies.

    Wind and solar facilities do not generate smog or fracking earthquakes and do not motivate wars of conquest. As it has frequently been pointed out, they do not have to be fueled, and therefore do not require a massive military to acquire and ensure fuel supplies, which represents yet another indirect subsidy for fossil fuel industries.

    • Michael Fiorillo says:

      The largest subsidy for fossil fuels, and their largest consumer, is provided by the US military, whose policy of “full spectrum dominance” is intended to maintain the dollar as the global reserve currency, priced in petroleum, with Treasury debt recycling things back to the (rapidly declining) Imperium.

      • will says:


        This is the biggest subsidy no one ever talks about. 50% of the federal budget is for the military (to those that disagree, look it up, as much as it can be is shuffled off the books: war debt interest, Dept of VA, DoE pays for nukes, that type of thing).

        The true “cost” of gas is likely around $15/gallon. Society would be a better place if it were priced accordingly.

    • robt says:

      Deductions from revenue for exploration, production inputs, and expenses are not subsidies.

      • P. Coyle says:

        i disagree. deductions are inherently subsidies. not picking and choosing winners, mind you, but tilting the playing field nevertheless.

      • Smingles says:

        You’re correct, but it’s just semantics.

        Tax breaks aren’t subsidies by the dictionary definition of the word.

        But if we’re being honest, I think what most people are referring to are “incentives” which include both tax breaks and actual subsidies.

        If government incentivizes you to do activity A by reducing your taxes for that activity, people tend to view that intuitively as equal to the government incentivizing you to do activity B by giving you additional funds (subsidy) for that activity.

    • Steve says:

      Wrong. Wars will be fought over the raw materials required to produce the Solar panels and since these sources are volitile, the storage of energy. Solar and Wind have limited uses unless there is an efficient and effective means of making the engergy non-volitile. Controlling the means of production or raw materials when limited will lead to war at some point.

      Just because the method of sourcing engergy changes, doesn’t change the base reason for wars.

      Wars are always about power as the tangible mechanics of how the masses are subjegated.

  16. GSH says:

    Not to fret. Global warming will surely raise electricity consumption as the northern US, Canada and Alaska is forced to install whole house A/C and the poor people in AZ and FL have to double and triple their cooling capacity.

    On a serious note, I was rotating into utilities instead of bonds because of low bond yields. May need to rethink.

    • Nick Kelly says:

      No harm in your joke but to continue in a semi -serious vein, Canada actually could receive a net benefit from SOME global warming.
      Canada has some of the best plant scientists in the world engaged in getting varieties that can beat early frost but we don’t always make it.

      Don’t get me wrong I’m not advocating for warming. The catch is in the ‘some’ warming. If the consensus of climate science is correct, after a certain point the green house gas production snowballs. or runs away.
      Venus apparently once had an earth- like climate but is now at hundreds of degrees, thanks to an atmosphere that traps heat from the sun.

      We could get more warming than we asked for.

  17. Agnes says:

    What’s the point of more generation anyway if “ya can’t get there from here?” The grid is a mess. Here’s from 4-year infrastructure report that just came out from ASCE, American Society of Civil Engineers:

    “Electricity delivery in the U.S. depends on an aging and complex patchwork system of power generation
    facilities, transmission and distribution (T&D) grids, local distribution lines, and substations, owned by an
    array of investor- and publicly-owned utilities, independent power producers, and governmental
    agencies. While investor-owned utilities make up only 6% of the number of electricity providers, they
    serve 68% of electric customers.
    Some parts of the U.S. electric grid predate the turn of the 20 th century. Most T&D lines were
    constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and were not originally engineered
    to meet today’s demand, nor severe weather events. With more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage
    transmission lines across the three interconnected electric transmission grids – the Eastern
    Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and Texas Interconnection – the lower 48 states’ power grid
    is at full capacity, with many lines operating well beyond their design. The resulting congestion raises
    concerns with distribution, reliability, and cost of service, producing constraints for delivering power
    from remote generation sites, specifically from renewable sources, to consumers. Often a single line
    cannot be taken out of service to perform maintenance as it will overload other interconnected lines in
    operation. Grids operating in Alaska and Hawaii are similarly congested and physically islanded from the
    other states. As a result of aging infrastructure, severe weather events, and attacks and vandalism, in
    2015 Americans experienced a reported 3,571 total outages, with an average duration of 49 minutes.”

    There is no interest in the grid. It’s a Commons, not investment material.

    • Robert says:

      QUESTION: Is there additional capacity to add more transmission lines on the additional large towers ?

      When I look at the very large and tall towers in the NY to New England corridor where I live, I see to things. One is that some of the towers only have lines on one side. Secondly I see towers whose lines are asymmetrically arranged, more one one side than the other.

      Each of my observations suggests to me that there is additional “real estate” on some of the transmission channels, to deploy ADDITIONAL transmission lines without shutting down existing lines for an extended period.

      This is not my area of business knowledge, so clearly I am uncertain of my conclusion, but this seems like an important question to understand.

      Lots of issues to understand.

      • Robert says:


        This one is important to my point, I meant to
        type this:

        QUESTION: Is there additional capacity to add more transmission lines on the EXISTING large transmission towers ?

      • Agnes says:

        Your cited article does a good job of detailing some of the physical complexity of the grid, and your suggestion may be workable in some cases. We don’t lack people who know what to do or skilled workers to do it. I know some of them. Unfortunately, grid stability seems to take a back seat to sucking as much money out of it as can be gotten. What could be done, won’t. Private ownership is not required to cooperate. There seems to be a lot of that going around.

      • mean chicken says:

        Many times, system voltage limits the number of lines that can be installed. The higher the voltage, more space between them is necessary to avoid corona losses.

        In general, about 6% of the energy is lost during transmission, high voltage losses are less than lower voltage losses would be.

    • d says:

      Exactly any intelligent developed nation has a national grid that transports electricity from Point of production to Point consumption and places of need.

      The places are regularly thousands of miles apart.

      In America AND OTHER CRONY CAPATALIST STATES LIKE AUSTRALIA you have a Hodge Podge of regional and local state supply grids that milk consumers efficiently but do not transport electricity from production point to other areas consumption points that have need efficiently or effectively.

      An efficient national Rail, Electricity, and Communications grid, Is a prerequisite form any developed nation or any old developed antion that intends to stay that way. These are also neede service taht teh sta eshould oversee and run as a non profit as tehy are a servioce to the entire population.

      The American political system makes this impossible.

      In England in the 1960’s “unprofitable” branch rail lines, were closed.

      Now they are again talking of reopening most of them, as they are a NEEDED PUBLIC SERVICE, time has proven.

      Rail corridors, are also perfect Electricity, and communications systems corridors.

      • Agnes says:

        “An efficient national Rail, Electricity, and Communications grid, Is a prerequisite form any developed nation or any old developed antion that intends to stay that way. ”

        I agree. There needs to be a balance between private ownership and the Commons. Commons needs regulation and enforcement to survive predation. I always think in terms of the success of our roadways, which are our major Commons. Without laws, regulations and [sigh!] traffic cops, roads wouldn’t be safe to drive on. Other Commons are needed for this country to survive. The grid is one of them.

        Maybe we should let corporate and government spy agencies know that it is harder to spy on people when the grid is down. Also, their propaganda machines stop working, so we start to think. But who’s going to listen to us anymore?

  18. GSH says:

    Another interesting angle on the lack of electricity consumption growth is that we use this metric to establish China’s real growth rate vs the official manipulated rate. If we apply that to the US, we’d conclude that there has not been much growth in our economy.

    • d says:

      “Another interesting angle on the lack of electricity consumption growth is that we use this metric to establish China’s real growth rate vs the official manipulated rate”

      We used to do that .

      The electricity consumption information was collected by CIA informants in china, and forwarded to the US. The CIA then Quietly released it, FOR FREE through a non CIA agency in the US.

      In one of the chinese hacks, the informant list was stolen.

      The informants, are now all dead, and you can no longer get truthful electricity consumption data for china.

      Same with rail car movements.

      Not everything the CIA does, is bad for the US, or Free Western nations.

  19. Mike Earussi says:

    Lighting makes up 7% of U.S. electricity consumption. The gradual switch to LEDs can easily lower that by 1-2%. Couple that with the gradual increase in energy efficient homes and appliances and you’ve got your overall decrease in electricity consumption.

    But these factors will eventually level off in a few years and consumption will start to rise again.

  20. Rates may not fall much, it costs the power company about the same to maintain the infrastructure whether we use a lot or a little. Rural customers may get the least benefit. Utilities are still considered a business where you can pass on your costs to your customers. We still need power generators, because solar alone does not provide the base wattage that comes from the surge of appliances with ELECTRIC motors. Should technology find a suitable replacement to the ELECTRIC motor, electricity demand would collapse. As an aside isn’t gasoline demand down as well? Something more for poor Janet to worry about. There is not as much economic growth as some think.

    • c smith says:

      “Something more for poor Janet to worry about.” Yes. The 2% inflation “target” is essentially lipstick on a pig. U.S. GDP has been stagnant for a decade, with massive inflation in “administered” segments of the economy with no real competition – health care, education, government pensions,etc.. The bankers and bureaucrats are just fine, while the rest of us struggle along on the crumbs.

  21. AGXIIK says:

    Aw hell, Elon Musk and his government subsidized rent seeking clone bro Lone Skum are two of the biggest charlatans since the last one of their ilk went the way of the Dodo.
    When Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion is reintroduced as the newest coolest ride since the Stanley Steamer, I’m all in. But only if it’s powered by unicorn flavored soy latte buggy juice.
    Until then I’m sticking with my 10 MPG Urban Assault Vehicle, aka a monster SUV

  22. AG says:

    I would factor in the repair costs of gas engines. Every few years, for starters, a smog test is needed. With my cars, which I keep it excellent condition, each time I need to bring it into a shop for anything besides an oil change or tune up, it ends up costing from $300 to $500.

    Gas engines have many more moving parts, cooling issues, exhaust problems, and a myriad of oils needed everywhere. And an EV will weigh a lot less, which means even tire costs could drop, along with our costs for constantly repairing roads. For icing, we would throw in the reduced decibel levels from noisy engines.

    So the real question is “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, which is the name of a 2006 documentary. The director put the blame on car companies and the oil industry, lack of commitment from the government.

    • Robert says:

      From your post:
      “So the real question is ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’, which is the name of a 2006 documentary. The director put the blame on car companies and the oil industry, lack of commitment from the government.”

      In my opinion, which is NOT necessarily correct, poor travel range, compounded by Northern Cold Winters killed the EV. From Wiki on the first EVs:

      “Electric vehicles first appeared in the mid-19th century. An electric vehicle held the vehicular land speed record until around 1900. The high cost, low top speed, and short range of battery electric vehicles, compared to later internal combustion engine vehicles, led to a worldwide decline in their use; although electric vehicles have continued to be used in the form of electric trains and other niche uses.”

      • AG says:

        The film, which is online free, notes that GM was so frantic to destroy any evidence about the EV, they ignored EV drivers’ requests to buy their leased EVs for over $25,000, back in the 1960s, and quickly crushed them all. GM had some activists arrested for trying to prevent their demolition.

        The speed issue is becoming less relevant nowadays with congested highway traffic often trudging along at an average 25 mph. Put a bike-lane for manual and electric bikes, and golf cart size vehicles, and they’ll be waving at the BMWs, Corvettes and SUVs going the same speed. Without golf bags, a cart can hold 4 people.

  23. MF says:

    The overall trend seems to be more diffusion and substitution in fuel type with efficiency enhancements (mostly wind & solar) growing for the foreseeable future. A gradual shift to electric drive in transportation will force oil to compete with coal and gas. It also allows wind and solar to extend the efficiency of the latter sources, which will serve to put a hard ceiling on oil prices.

    This is what’s new: transportation has been successfully decoupled from the stranglehold oil had on it for nearly 100 years. We’ll still have oil-powered vehicles for people who like to own cars. But consumers are increasingly buying “transportation” (e.g.: Uber) rather than “cars”. This lowers the number of home-based chargers that will be needed.

    I once did a calculation on the efficiency of burning gas directly in a CNG Honda Civic vs. a Nissan Leaf pulling its power from new tech gas plants. To my surprise, even allowing for transmission line losses across hundreds of miles, the Nissan came out ahead. After applying an efficiency penalty to the Nissan based on the difference between dealer invoices before subsidies (to account for the extra energy used in manufacturing), the difference was narrowed substantially. So we can assume CNG in passenger cars won’t catch on.

    All of this put together means that cities will have one kind of transportation (electric for hire), suburbs another kind (owner-operated electric), and rural another kind (trucks). It’ll be a mix that will successfully kick the fossil fuel can down the road — again.

    I remember all the wailing about how unrealistic electrics were because they would stress out our aging grid. I think we’ll keep patching it together, and I think we’ll replace sagging household demand with transportation. In a stagnant economy, this makes sense where you have to cannibalize one segment to grow another. What people were spending on car payments and gasoline can be diverted to ride services and the electricity to support them.

    • will says:

      You’re ignoring all of the embedded carbon costs in manufacturing, mining, and heavy industry present in BOTH petrol/carbon and electric vehicles.

      Driving is not becoming “independent” of fossil fuels, because none of the things above is to an appreciable degree. The global energy mix is still almost entirely carbon-based and is expected to be for decades. (Viclav Smil, for example lays this out eloquently in his presentations, among others).

      At a basic level, (and I think that this has been missed somewhere in the discussion above, I’m not picking on you, I like your comment and I think it’s technically correct in the limited scope of frame, but wrong on emphasis) everyone owning two tons of metal and plastic is simply not sustainable for multiple reasons – the overall discussion on how their use is powered is a diversion from this fact. And so is the discussion on driver-less, owner-less cars, for that matter.

      It’s all (not talking about the discussion here, rather the zeitgeist at large) an excellent example of a herd mania to avoid facing an unpleasant and discomforting reality. The fact that there’s no reasonable solution to the sad state of affairs regarding how we’ve structured our transportation, societies and lives is probably largely responsible for this collective delusion, denial and avoidance.

      It really just makes me deeply sorrowful more than anything..

  24. Maximus Minimus says:

    While the information about the efficiency CCGT is impressive, this turbine probably has to burn high grade fuel. The total energy efficiency compared to bunker oil would be helpful.
    As for the drop in electricity use, would be interesting to know the breakdown on use by sectors: industrial, transportation, residential. That would show where the “culprit” is.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The CCGT burns standard natural gas.

      Bunker is the worst. Among other things, it’s very high on sulfur. Even the global shipping industry, the biggest user of bunker and one of the dirtiest industries out there, will be forced to clean up by Jan 2020. Bunker used to be considered a waste product in the refining process until they figured out how to design engines that could use it as fuel.

      • d says:

        “Bunker used to be considered a waste product in the refining process until they figured out how to design engines that could use it as fuel.”

        Bit like that Beautiful Diesel Engine, that was originally designed to run on. PEANUT OIL. JD didn’t like that.

        Yet People are still trying to build electric cars before they have the. Adequate, lightweight, long lasting, fully (Easily) recyclable. Battery Technology.

        When the GREEN alternative, has always been there, and was in fact, there first.

      • sinbad says:

        I have seen liquid sulphur sloshing about in the bottom of the furnace, and when it cools it looks like a ceramic glaze on the fire bricks.
        But not all bunker oil is high sulphur, it depends on the source.

  25. Yancey Ward says:

    The decline, in humble opinion, is proof that the economy is in full stagnation- nothing more, nothing less.

  26. Bruce Turton says:

    So sorry Steve, Should have said “up from there”!!!

  27. Stuart Dowsley says:

    I think it is interesting that the ever increasing levels of homeless are not even considered in their consumption equations. How many single family dwellings no longer consume power because the people living there can no longer afford to live there.

  28. ian says:

    Declining power usage? Fear not the solution is at hand. Have you seen how much power bitcoin uses? With the exponential growth in transaction difficulty they will use all the power produced in a few years. Bingo, problem solved.

  29. bob says:

    Tesla’s real slogan should be:
    “Tesla…saving the planet, one lithium strip mine at a time”

  30. Someone says:

    I would guess lots of empty retail and office space would not use as much electricity these days.

  31. Sinbad says:

    What does it mean?

    It means industrial production is in decline, retail is in decline, and ordinary Americans can’t afford to run the air conditioner.

    • DV says:

      You took words from my mouth.
      I have heard estimates that China’s industrial production may now be greater than that of combined US and EU. And China is not the only country where the industry is being transferred.

Comments are closed.