Energy is the foundation of economic activity. It is also a highly capital-intensive sector with very long-lived assets, whose replacement timescale can be over 50 years. Those two features make the energy system “sticky” to transformation, imposing cost penalties or absolute constraints on rapid changes. Despite the importance of this effect, many policy models omit energy infrastructure altogether.
This EPIC lunch is an informal presentation of work-in-progress results from two projects that develop new datasets to provide insight into these constraints. In the first project, we conduct a physical inventory of all long-lived physical assets in the United States tied to fossil-fueled energy production – every pipeline, power plant, refinery, oil tanker. We book-keep the total replacement and depreciated values, develop an age structure, and compare to current investment levels to forecast expected rates and levels of transition under current trends. The total replacement cost of energy assets of ~$6.4 trillion 2012 USD also serves as a proxy for the infrastructure required for a transition away from fossil fuels. In the second project, we develop from historical sources a database of nearly 200 years of U.S. energy consumption by fuel and by end-use, from 1820 to the present. The database can be animated as a movie of evolving Sankey diagrams, and shows details of the major past U.S. energy transitions. The results provide understanding of the U.S.’s odd position as an outlier in the history of global energy use, with anomalously high early energy intensity and a gradual recovery that brings the U.S. in line with other nations.