By Wendy Koch

The United States is setting new milestones that suggest a fundamental, and possibly permanent, shift in its energy economy.

Consider what happened last year alone. The amount of electricity from coal-fired power plants hit a record low while that from natural gas generators hit a record high. Also, renewable energy added the most new power to the electric grid, and annual carbon emissions reached a 20-year low.

“2015 clearly marked a turning point for American energy….We’ve entered a new era here in the United States,” says Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, which released on Thursday the fourth annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook in partnership with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Colleen Regan, a senior BNEF analyst, expects many of the key changes will likely be “permanent shifts, rather than temporary adjustments.”

Indeed, in recent years, the U.S. oil and natural gas boom has sparked much talk about an American energy renaissance. Yet as prices for oil, wind and solar have plunged, the most recent U.S. short-term forecast doesn’t see production growth for all three. Rather, it sees oil falling for the next two years but solar and wind rising…

…“In the absence of substantial greenhouse gas policies, the U.S. and the global economy are unlikely to stop relying on fossil fuels as the primary source of energy,” write Thomas Covert and Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago and Christopher R. Knittel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the short- and middle-term, they say solar and wind are unlikely to “play a major role in base-load electricity capacity or in replacing petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines.”

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Areas of Focus: Energy Markets
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Energy Markets
Well-functioning markets are essential for providing access to reliable, affordable energy. EPIC research is uncovering the policies, prices and information needed to help energy markets work efficiently.
Electric Power
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Electric Power
As the electric power system faces new pressures and opportunities, EPIC research is working to identify the mix of policies needed to accelerate the global transition to clean, reliable, affordable...
Fossil Fuels
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Fossil Fuels
Under current policies, fossil fuels will play an important role in the energy system for the foreseeable future. EPIC research is exploring the costs and benefits of these fuels as...
Renewable Energy
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Renewable Energy
Lower technology costs and supportive public policies are driving an increase in renewable energy in markets around the world. EPIC research is assessing the costs, benefits, and efficiency of policies...
Climate Change
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Climate Change
Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
Climate Economics
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Climate Economics
Climate change will affect every sector of the economy, both locally and globally. EPIC research is quantifying these effects to help guide policymakers, businesses, and individuals working to mitigate and...