There were a number of major energy developments in 2015, including historically low oil prices, record levels of natural gas in storage, major policy and regulatory changes, and a groundbreaking international climate agreement.
We’ve assembled some of the most telling energy statistics to help highlight some of the year’s biggest energy trends. Here are the top 10 energy numbers from 2015.
Near 4 Tcf
U.S. working natural gas in storage breaks all-time record
In October, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that U.S. working natural gas in storage matched the all-time record of 3,929 billion cubic feet (Bcf).
A few weeks later, U.S. working natural gas in storage broke the all-time record with 3,978 Bcf, just shy of 4 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).
What conditions helped contribute to a record year for natural gas storage? Record levels of natural gas production – marketed production hit a record high of 81.1 Bcf per day in September – and an exceedingly mild winter in key consumption regions, especially the U.S. Northeast.
$49 per barrel
Global crude oil prices tumble dramatically
It was a tumultuous year for global crude oil prices.
According to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil fell to $49.08 in 2015, a drastic decrease from $93.17 in 2014 and $97.98 in 2013.
It was a similar story for Brent crude oil which had a projected average price per barrel of $52.93, down from $98.89 in 2014 and $108.56 in 2013.
What helps explain the dramatic drop in oil prices? The decrease is largely due to sustained growth in global production which has outpaced consumption growth since August 2014, resulting in a surplus in global inventories.
EIA expects the average price per barrel of crude oil to increase slightly in 2016.
Groundbreaking climate agreement reached in Paris
On December 12, 2015, 195 countries reached an unprecedented climate change agreement at the 21st session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.
The new treaty – which was the product of a four-year round of negotiations – aims to halt the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, with a stretch goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
By U.N. estimates, halting the increase at 2 degrees Celsius alone will require a total emissions reduction of 40 gigatonnes, which will be no easy feat given that current proposals in aggregate would only keep emissions under 3 degrees Celsius.
So, how can the ambitious target be met? Natural gas, renewable energy resources, and increased energy efficiency are all expected to play major roles worldwide.
32% by 2030
President Obama unveils EPA’s Clean Power Plan
In August, President Obama unveiled the final version of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan.
The highly anticipated plan targets a 32 percent emissions reduction in the electric power sector — which is the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States — by 2030. The new rule is an increase from the initial proposal of 30 percent and is projected to cut carbon pollution by 870 million tons below 2005 levels.
Among the plan’s key provisions are flexible compliance options for states and utilities, safeguards for reliability, and an extended compliance period that doesn’t begin until January 1, 2022.
U.S. power sector carbon emissions drop to lowest levels since 1995
While the Clean Power Plan was a major development in 2015, a less-covered story was that carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector have already decreased significantly in recent years.
According to an analysis conducted by the Sierra Club, annual carbon emissions produced by the U.S. power sector will total 1,983 million metric tons (MMT) by the end of 2015, which is the lowest level since 1995.
What explains the decrease in carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector? Unprecedented coal retirements have played a major role, with 2015 retirements totaling the same amount of capacity retired over a 20-year span from 1990-2009.
Total U.S. energy-related carbon emissions rose 1 percent in 2014
While carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector were projected to decrease in 2015, final analyses indicated that total U.S. energy-related emissions actually increased in 2014.
According to the EIA, emissions rose 1 percent in 2014 due to increased energy consumption in the transportation, commercial, and residential sectors.
Altogether, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were 5,406 MMT in 2014, 1 percent above their 2013 level. In the transportation sector, CO2 emissions were 24 MMT higher than the 2013 level. Commercial sector emissions rose by 19 MMT and residential sector emissions by 18 MMT.
Fortunately, compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation solutions, cutting-edge building analytics, and improved household energy efficiency all offer clear ways to reduce overall energy-related emissions.
Installed solar capacity in the United States tops 24 gigawatts
In 2015, U.S. total installed solar capacity topped 24.1 gigawatts in Q3 – enough to power 5 million U.S. homes.
While residential installations continued to grow, non-residential installations also saw important quarterly increases. Direct Energy Business played a part in this trend with a number of innovative solar projects, including a groundbreaking 1.2 megawatt rooftop installation with H-E-B and SolarCity.
The 1.2 megawatt installation — which is one of the largest rooftop installations in the Lone Star State — includes more than 3,000 panels and covers a sprawling 105,000 square feet. It is projected to serve about half of the center’s electricity demands while also providing significant energy savings and carbon emission reductions.
With the extension of the incentive tax credit (ITC) for solar systems, solar installations are expected to continue to grow. However, the bigger story might be that businesses are coming to fully recognize the inherent, long-term value of solar systems.
5,000,000,000 data points
Panoramic Power now analyzes 5 billion data points per month
Data and analytics are increasingly having a powerful impact on energy management.
In November, Direct Energy Business acquired Panoramic Power, which was named Top Product of the Year by Energy Manager Today for Wireless Electricity Monitoring. With the technology, Panoramic Power now analyzes a staggering 5 billion data points per month, helping businesses save energy, money, and improve operations.
ERCOT shatters its all-time peak electricity demand record
In August, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — which manages three-fourths of the Lone Star State’s electricity grid — shattered its all-time peak demand record.
Demand for electricity reached 69,000 megawatts (MW) for the first time in the grid operator’s history. Electricity demand soared to 69,408 MW between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. and rose to a record high of 69,783 MW between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.
How did ERCOT meet the heightened demand? Through a combination of renewable resources – especially wind – and demand response.
PJM’s Capacity Performance plan will cost consumers $7.3 billion
In 2015, grid reliability became more expensive for many customers.
A report produced by the American Public Power Association (APPA) found that PJM Interconnection’s Capacity Performance model – which was opposed and challenged by Direct Energy – will cost consumers a staggering $7.3 billion over the next three delivery years.
PJM Interconnection — which manages the world’s largest wholesale electricity market, spanning 13 states and the District of Columbia — made the changes to its capacity market structure in response to the polar vortex of 2014 when 22 percent of the regional transmission organization’s generation resources were knocked offline.
While the changes were aimed at ensuring greater reliability during extreme weather events, it’s clear the plan will have an inverse effect on the region’s consumers and businesses.